Tea party splits GOP in thirds, says Republican strategist

The divisions the tea party brought to the GOP could cause trouble come 2012, says Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
GOP strategist Bill McInturff told reporters assembled at a Monitor Breakfast in Washington Thursday that the divisions created by the tea party could complicate things for Republicans.

Views on the tea party split the Republican Party into thirds, which could cause the GOP difficulty moving into the next election cycle, says a top party strategist.

“This is trouble for the party,” said Bill McInturff, a partner in the influential Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies. He was an adviser to John McCain’s 2008 president campaign and this year polled for one third of GOP House pick-ups as well as nine senators.

Based on the results of questions included in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll of which he is co-director, Mr. McInturff says the GOP breaks into three groups of roughly equal size based on their views of the tea party. “So you look at a party that is now split into those three groups,” McInturff said Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters.

“You have a third of Republicans who say 'I am not a tea party person.' You have a third of Republicans who say 'I am a Republican and a tea party [person] but when asked, I think of myself more as Republican.' And now you have a third …that says 'I am a Republican but I really think of myself as a Tea Party person,' ” McInturff said.

The groups can vary sharply in terms of "their issue positions and their intensity," McInturff said. He used a military metaphor to describe the differences. “The Republican tea party folks who say that they are tea party are like the special forces elite troops. The Republicans who are tea party but regular Republicans are sort of like the regular army. And the Republicans who aren’t the tea party are kind of the support staff far from the front lines.”

At the moment, tea party self-identifiers are playing a key role in crucial party primaries. “In a Republican primary, those Republicans who are tea party persons – who think of themselves as tea party – they make up about a third right now of our party,” McInturff said. But he added, “they make up 40-plus percent of the primary vote or maybe higher ... and believe me they are in a no-compromise stance.

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