Will Republican Chickens Come Home To Roost In The Form Of Teabaggers Running For Office?
I'm not a social anthropologist, but I'm well aware that not all teabaggers are the same. I've never been to a tea party in the South or in the Midwest or the Northeast. But I did spend a whole day with the teabaggers of the L.A. area back in August and reported on it here (lots of pictures of me up close and live with actual teabaggers), here and here. What I noticed about the Southern California teabaggers-- and I was hanging out with them for hours before the event started and talking with every one of them I could-- was that in the end, no matter what confused issues they had foremost in their dim minds, they were all just a bunch of fearful, hate-filled racists. Really, every single one of them.
Every argument they couldn't defend ended in racial slurs about "anchor babies" and "illegals." No matter how the discussion began, no matter what the topic-- and this was a healthcare town hall-- it always ended in bigotry and their anti-Hispanic psychosis. Like I said, I never visited a tea party in Arkansas or Tennessee or Georgia. And it would only be a guess to say that they're not as obsessed about Hispanics and they might have another group at the bottom of their grievances. Or maybe it's just the Southern California teabaggers who are racist maniacs, and the ones in the South are just defenders of the constitutional order.
Early in the teabagger media cycle, before Fox had been able to market it fully and cross it over to the mainstream, Cincinnati was on the bandwagon. Poor Steve Dreihaus hardly knew what hit him when a horde of teabaggers descended on his town hall meeting. A friend who was there told me that Cincinnati is more like a Southern city than any other place in the Midwest, and that there were probably more people from Kentucky there than from Ohio. They were shouting the same canned slogans and bromides the well-organized teabaggers were in L.A., but they weren't concerned about Mexicans in Cincinnati. The President's skin color, on the other hand, and his Hawaiian birth and "Muslim faith," of course, bothered them greatly and became the default for any losing position in an argument.
Yesterday Howard Wilkinson of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the teabaggers' quest to remake the GOP in their own image. In other words, have the corporatists bitten off more than they can chew by using their wealth to rile up the know-nothings and racists and fill their empty heads, already brimming with the anti-social hatreds fed them daily by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, with high-minded, even polite rationales for blaming their pain and suffering on... minorities? Will they consume the corporatists' favorite political party? Wilkinson writes that the angry mobs at the rallies have given way to a concerted effort by the teabaggers to take over the GOP.
They are doing it here by the hundreds by filing as candidates in the May 4 primary election for the office of precinct executive, the lowest rung of the political party structure.
"It's the place where you can have the most impact,'' said Mike Wilson, the founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party. "It's one thing to talk to the party leaders about change. It's another thing to actually be the party leadership and make the change from within."
It is a strategy that has worked elsewhere-- Tea Party activists essentially took over the Nevada Republican Party earlier this month; and in Florida, they were successful in forcing out a state party chairman who was seen as too centrist.
A Tea Party takeover of a county party organization would, no doubt, result in a far more conservative party organization that would likely field candidates who are hard-liners on taxes and spending.
Wilson and other Tea Party leaders-- working with a loose affiliation of conservative groups like Ohio Liberty Council and the Cincinnati 9/12 project-- have traveled around Southwest Ohio over the past few months holding meetings where they give Tea Party activists a PowerPoint crash course on how to run for precinct executives.
Leaders of the suburban county Republican Parties agree they've noticed a surge of interest from those with Tea Party affiliations.
Wilson said he alone has talked to at least 5,000 people over the past few months; and said he knows of at least 300 Tea Party activists who plan to run for precinct executive positions in Southwest Ohio. The number is likely to grow considerably before the Feb. 18 candidate filing deadline, he said.
...Tim Kappers, who heads the Anderson [Township, Hamilton County] Tea Party, said that his group has 32 of the township's 33 precincts covered with candidates for precinct executive.
About one-third of them, Kappers said, are incumbents who "are with us on the issues." The rest, he said, are relative newcomers to the political process. Two of them, Kappers said, are challenging incumbents, mainly because they are closely tied to Jean Schmidt, the Republican congresswoman who represents Anderson.
"We don't think she shares our values,'' Kappers said.
And Mean Jean Schmidt, one of the most radically right Republicans in Congress, isn't the only party hack in Congress (or "due" to get into Congress) for whom the teabaggers are problems. As a point of comparison, Schmidt's ProgressivePunch score on critical votes wasn't precisely as doctrinaire as those of Ohio freshmen Steve Austria, Bob Latta and Jim Jordan (who can each boast a perfect zero!), but her 1.40 is just a tad above John Boehner's 1.20-- and more extreme right than any other member of the Ohio delegation. If her values aren't good enough for them, they won't be satisfied 'til someone to the right of Benito Mussolini is running the show-- which, is, come to think about it, exactly the kind of brutish authoritarian leader they crave.
South Carolina is a hotbed of teabagger activism, and one of the state's senators, Jim DeMint, is their ideal, while the other, poor Lindsey Graham, is their nemesis. Early teabagger targets were Rep. Bob Inglis, whose re-election bid was probably doomed when he refused to pay obeisance to teabagger idols Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs, and Rep. Gresham Barrett, whose campaign to take over the governorship from the tango dancer is going nowhere because of teabagger contempt (for his lifetime ProgressivePunch crucial vote score of 1.32; it was a zero for the current session). But they can easily forgive Joe Wilson his slightly higher 1.39 score because they like the cut of his jib and his teabagger-like behavior, not to mention the blatant racism he wears on his sleeve. The only South Carolina congressman with a lower score than Barrett is Henry Wilson-- with an astounding 0.86-- but there was something they didn't find kosher about him too, and they have driven him to retire!
And wouldn't you know it, yesterday I heard from my pal Katherine Jenerette, the Confederate Sarah Palin and the teabagger candidate for Brown's seat. She's up against a huge array of stodgy white male Republican establishment types, including the son of Strom Thurmond and the son of Carroll Campbell II-- and she's beating them all in the polls! Sarah of the South is excited about the way South Carolina voters are embracing her bid for election. "I don't know if the 'Brown in MA Fallout' is everything that the right is trying to say it is, but it seems like a lot of people are really beginning to question the 'traditional' leadership that has/is running the country." The most recent poll shows her not just out ahead, but with more than twice as much support as Gov. Campbell's son Tumpy (aka Carroll III).
Jenerette isn't bolting from the GOP to run as a pure teabagger, though. Others are, especially in areas where the local Republican Party machine has stacked the decks against insurgents. Not every teabagger can be a Scott Brown, but plenty are willing to be spoilers by running as third-party candidates and drawing votes away from the hated Establishment Republicans. Donn Janes in western Tennessee is probably guaranteeing a Democratic win by running as a third-party candidate for the seat Blue Dog John Tanner is abandoning.
“As of today, I am no longer going to run for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican,” Janes announced. “We need to change the way we elect our representatives. We continue to rely on the two-party system to provide us with different choices; but thanks to this corrupt system, there is little difference between the two of them. Both parties voted to increase the size of our government; both parties voted to trade your freedoms for security; and both parties are responsible for our monstrous debt, our failing economy and the exporting of our jobs overseas. I will be running as an independent Tea Party Candidate, a candidate who doesn’t answer to or work for party leadership, but a candidate who will work for the people of West Tennessee.”
When asked about what led to this decision, Mr. Janes stated that the National Republican Party continues to aggressively support candidates who lack depth on issues and conservative values, but instead focus on candidates who are able to self fund or raise large sums of money.
With teabaggers crawling out from under the woodwork, barely able to articulate a platform beyond what they hear from Glenn Beck, even far right extremists like Virginia Foxx and Pete Sessions are being threatened. Voters are angry about the Democratic non-deliverance after the massive victories voters gave them in 2008. The only thing that could possibly stave off massive defeats this year is the worsening lack of unity on the right. More than half the House Republicans from Texas-- Congress' most reactionary state delegation-- are facing challenges from teabaggers this year. One deranged soul, Jerry Ray Hall, changed his middle name to "Tea" to distinguish himself from the 4 other teabaggers taking on conservative Republican Ralph Hall, the dean of the House GOP.
Teabagger candidates are disrupting the normally top-down, buttoned-up Republican Party order by targeting GOP Establishment figures across the country, from Robert Bennett (UT), John McCain (AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (NH), to Jane Norton (CO), Charlie Crist (FL) and Carly Fiorina (CA). Yesterday Adam Nagourney, covering the lavish Republican Party junket to Hawai'i, posited that disunity could frustrate the chances of the Republicans returning to power. "Many of the obstacles facing Republicans," he wrote, "were on display in Honolulu."
[T]he strains within the party over conservative principles versus political pragmatism played out in a sharp and public way, especially as the party establishment struggled to deal with the demands of the Tea Party movement. Republican leaders succeeded in derailing a resolution proposed by conservatives, led by James Bopp Jr. of Indiana, which would have required candidates to agree to a list of conservative positions to get party support.
But the intensity of the divisions was put on display as Mr. Bopp and Bob Tiernan, the Republican chairman from Oregon, quarreled before reporters over whether the watered-down compromise had any real force.
Mr. Bopp insisted that it did, and Mr. Tiernan insisted that it did not, repeating himself and interrupting Mr. Bopp until Mr. Bopp turned to him and said, “Shut up!”
Mr. Steele, in an interview, disputed any suggestion that the Tea Party movement was a problem for his party. “I don’t see it as a rivalry,” he said. “What I’m saying is we want to be your partner in the same fight.”
In cases where contested primaries pit Tea Party candidates against establishment Republicans, Mr. Steele said he expected both sides to come together to support the victor.
“If a Republican incumbent or a Republican candidate is running and a Tea Party candidate is in the race and the Republican wins, my expectation is that the Tea Party guy is going to support the Republican,” he said. “Because we would support the Tea Party guys.”
But Dick Armey, a former House majority leader who has become a leader of the Tea Party movement, suggested that it might be unwise for the Republican Party to count on Tea Party support.
“This is not a situation where the grass-roots activists are saying, ‘What can we do to make ourselves attractive to the Republicans?’” he said. “It is ‘What can we do to help the Republicans understand what they must do to be attractive to us?’”
Considering it was the grass-roots movement that helped lift Scott Brown to victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, losing that source of support would be a setback Mr. Steele presumably would not welcome at what would seem to be such an auspicious moment for his party.
And grassroots right-wingers are finding other alternatives to the corporately-owned GOP every day, and not just the veiled racists in the teabagger movement.