For those who have wondered where the "tea party" movement goes next, US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, one of its key promoters, has an answer: The tea partyers’ platform of fiscal frugality, lower taxes, and a smaller government that adheres more closely to the Constitution, she says, will lead the GOP to a political resurgence.
“What we’re seeing is that the Republican Party is waking up to and recognizing that the real uprising happening across America isn’t just about Republicans, but disaffected Democrats and independents saying, ‘Wait a minute, the country isn’t working anymore, let’s get back to balance,' " said Bachmann, who will speak Feb. 6 at the Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville, Tenn.
President Obama seems to have gotten the memo, too, taking a decidedly more populist stance in recent days – ordering, for one thing, a partial federal spending freeze.
The tea party movement, which arose almost a year ago after passage of several federal bailout bills, grew into a national affair as irate protesters gathered repeatedly in small towns and big cities in objection to what they see as fiscal profligacy by both parties in Washington.
Mostly discounted at first, tea partyers subsequently became the target of liberals, who were fond of pointing out the movement's alleged intellectual shortcomings (made famous by the tea party protest sign “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”). Now, liberal commentators acknowledge that the tea party movement cannot be dismissed as a fringe phenomenon and that it seems to represent the disaffected anger of parts of the huge American middle class. (That explains why GOP chairman Michael Steele is a fan, calling himself a tea partyer.)
As the tea party movement has grown in numbers, the question for many is how GOP moderates such as John McCain will fare if the party takes a hard turn right to abide the populist anger that lay behind recent Democratic losses. Democrats lost governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey last fall, and, last week, the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts upset the Democrats' fragile supermajority in the Senate.
The question related to GOP moderates is far from settled as various tea party factions bid for power. Good example: While the so-called ‘tea party candidate” in Arizona, J.D. Hayworth, is bent on unseating Senator McCain, Sarah Palin – another national tea party figure – is set to campaign for McCain, her former presidential running mate.
And polls show that Charlie Crist, a popular moderate in Florida, has lost his lead in a US Senate race to tea party challenger Marco Rubio, after prolonged attacks on Mr. Crist about spending increases and his acceptance of federal stimulus funds to plug gaps in the state budget.
Some are concerned that hard-right tea partyers will drive out moderates, thus distancing the entire party from the American mainstream.
“It’s a mobocracy that folks on the right should probably be worried about,” says Robert Watson, a political-science professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “They’re doing this litmus test, and tea party folks want a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity clone running the party.”
But while the tea party seems riven with conflict – witness the hotly debated Tea Party Nation convention, from which some tea party groups are now distancing themselves – Bachmann argues that it is the party’s ideals, not its leaders, that are influencing the GOP and worrying Democrats.
The recent dust-up between Bachmann and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D), in which he urged Bachmann to “act like a lady,” showed post-Brown frustration among Democrats and unveiled “arrogance" toward those who want to put the brakes on the progressive Democratic agenda, Bachmann told Mr. O’Reilly.
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