Democratic leader needles GOP: tea party has already won civil war

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says tea party candidates might have lost Republican primaries Tuesday, but they've moved the party far to the right.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks to reporters in Washington Wednesday, May 7.

Americans may think that tea party candidates lost in Republican primaries in North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana Tuesday, but that’s not how Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sees it.

“The tea party has won the civil war that has been raging inside the Republican Party,” she said at a breakfast for reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor Wednesday. It has done this, she says, by turning “establishment” Republican candidates into tea party clones.

Take Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker who on Tuesday took first place in a Republican Senate primary and will face the freshman Democratic incumbent, Sen. Kay Hagan, in November. He was widely touted as the “establishment” candidate. But Representative Wasserman Schultz disagrees.

“Thom Tillis is no longer, if he ever was, an establishment candidate. He was dramatically pulled to the right,” she said.

With the tea party candidates on the losing side Tuesday – and losing national appeal, according to polls – some argue that the Democrats stand to be the big losers this November. No longer will Democrats benefit from untested tea party candidates losing general election races, as happened in Indiana, Missouri, and Delaware during the previous two election cycles.

But Wasserman Schultz begs to differ. She says Republicans are out of step with mainstream voters, who favor issues Democrats are putting forward: an increase in the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, pay equity for women, a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and fixing – not repealing – the Affordable Care Act.

Obsessively seeking repeal of Obamacare has “lost its luster” for GOP voters, Wasserman Schultz stated. That's why, she said, House Republicans have opened a new front, announcing a special investigative panel on the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. She called the panel “nothing more than a political ploy,” and said that Democratic leaders in the House are right to demand that the panel be made up of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

“I do think that our leadership should seriously consider not participating if the process is not going to be fair,” she said.

Looking forward to the midterm elections, she dismisses the importance of a recent poll suggesting that more Americans would vote for a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat. This “generic ballot” polling doesn’t take into account specific races, issues, and Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, Wasserman Schultz said. She predicted that Democrats would oust Republican governors in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maine and also have opportunities to win US Senate races in Kentucky, Georgia, and possibly Mississippi. 

Vulnerable Democratic senators are in “challenging races,” she admitted, but “we have incumbent members who ... know their people that they represent, and I think we’ll be successful in November.”

She emphasized a superior ground game in registering and mobilizing voters, a must-do for Democrats who traditionally trail Republican turnout in off-year elections – especially with a president with drooping job approval. 

The GOP, though, has upped its game with investment in technology and ground forces. Wasserman Schultz pooh-poohed that effort. “While the Republicans are funding some bells and whistles, culturally, the problem that they have is that you don’t just throw a bunch of money at high-tech tools, flip a switch, and boom, you have a grass roots network,” she said. “It takes years to build that culture."

In the longer term, Wasserman Schultz said Democrats are going to make sure they don’t have “another 2010,” when Republicans swept to power in the US House and many state legislatures, then redrew maps of voting districts to give Republicans an advantage. The goal, she says, is that as the next census in 2020 nears, “we are able to win legislative chambers back so that we can be in the strongest possible position for redistricting.”

On other subjects, Wasserman Schultz predicted a woman president within “a couple of cycles” if Hillary Rodham Clinton chooses not to run and described immigration reform as “the lens through which Hispanics look”  at politics.

While immigration is not the most important issue for Hispanics, “you can’t be wrong as a candidate on that issue.”

She seemed to question whether Mr. Obama should take further executive action to stop deportation of illegal immigrants, as he is being pressured to do.

“An executive action on immigration reform, particularly deportations, would only survive his presidency,” she said. It would be unlikely to relieve the current uncertainty that besets many undocumented immigrants.

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