Friedersdorf: Newt Could Kill Tea Party

Friedersdorf: Newt Could Kill Tea Party December 12, 2011

The always thoughtful Conor Friedersdorf argues that if Newt Gingrich gets the Republican presidential nomination, the Tea Party movement could well be destroyed as a result. His first reason is because Newt supported Bush-style big government conservatism:

The Tea Party wasn’t just a reaction to President Obama or the financial industry bailouts. As Jonah Goldberg puts it, “a major motivating passion of the tea-party movement was a long-delayed backlash against George W. Bush and his big-government conservatism.” Support for the War on Terrorism and the invasion of Iraq caused many conservatives to stay loyal to Bush. But that didn’t mean they liked No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the attempt at a guest worker program, TARP, or the Harriet Miers nomination. Especially after the defeat of John McCain, many on the right insisted they’d never again support Bush-Rove conservatism.

And Gingrich supported almost all the most controversial Bush-Rove policies!

He favored No Child Left Behind, an unprecedented federal intervention in education. He supported Medicare Part D, a brand new, budget-busting drug entitlement. He supported “comprehensive immigration reform,” perhaps the most divisive-among-conservatives policy initiative of the aughts. He urged the passage of TARP. And he even spoke favorably about the infamous Harriet Miers nomination, a George W. Bush misstep that caused many of his most loyal supporters to rebel.

Tea Partiers pledged that if they had their way the GOP would never again have as its champion a federal government enlarging, entitlement expanding, amnesty urging, Bush-style Republican.

To do so just four years on would be a significant failure.

His second argument is that Newt is the ultimate political insider:

Another Tea Party talking point is its suspicion of Washington, D.C., insiders. For all Sarah Palin’s flaws, the Tea Partiers who rallied around her could at least justifiably claim that she had authentic roots far from Washington and a record in Alaska of taking on corrupt political insiders who sought to enrich themselves at public expense. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain — all these flawed Tea Party favorites have at least some claim to outsider status.

But Gingrich? He is the epitome of the Inside the Beltway insider, and not only because of his long stint in Congress. After retiring, he profited lavishly off connections he made on the taxpayer dime, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars influence-pedaling. Most famously, he got $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, the very entity that many conservatives regard as most culpable for the financial crisis. And then he had the temerity to insist that he was paid as “a historian,” an explanation so transparently farcical that it can justifiably be seen as an insult to the intelligence of GOP primary voters.

As if supporting such a man weren’t incoherent enough already, a movement that valorizes Joe the Plumber, family values and hockey moms is now rallying behind a long-winded former academic turned career politician with an affinity for private planes, chauffeurs, and buying Tiffany and Co. jewelry for his third wife. It’s as if Kanye West wrote a politician into his last album.

Runaway, Tea Partiers! Why don’t you just runaway?

I think Friedersdorf is overestimating the coherence of Tea Party ideology and underestimating its tribal nature. Are there people in the movement who are genuine smaller government libertarian types? Sure there are. But that isn’t why the masses joined up, even if they parrot that kind of rhetoric ubiquitously. The Tea Party is primarily an exercise in tribalism, not a set of principles. It’s a group of people who consider themselves Real Americanstm at war with those they think are not. And Newt Gingrich has made a career out of being human catnip for such people. There will be some of the leaders who will criticize Gingrich and urge people not to support him, but the rank and file will follow him right over the cliff.

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  • Michael Heath

    I think another reason we got a Tea Party was to rebrand the party obstructing the Democrats. “Republican” referred to the very group who made the mess Democrats needed to clean-up after. Better to calls yourselves something else and blame what the Republicans did in the 2000s on Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi in order to deflect attention from the fact that the very things Tea Partiers advocate for now are the very factors which caused this mess to occur in the first place (with moderates and their supporters in both parties also being culpable, including myself).

    This also played in very well with Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers efforts along with other big-money enablers to divert monies away from the Michael Steele-led Republican apparatus and into other PACS which allowed contributors and their agents to better control how Republican politicians behaved.

    Also because our current immigration policy, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and the Meiers nomination had absolutely nothing to do with the catastrophic recession we continue to fight our way out of, with the Republicans successfully obstructing that recovery and while pushing for economic contraction every step of the way.

  • The Tea Party wasn’t just a reaction to President Obama or the financial industry bailouts. As Jonah Goldberg puts it, “a major motivating passion of the tea-party movement was a long-delayed backlash against George W. Bush and his big-government conservatism.”

    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. A thousand times bullshit.

    The fact that the Tea Party likes Gingrich so much should finally wake up the likes of Friedersdorf and Goldberg (who unlike Friedersdorf, I do not expect any rational thought from) to the fact that the Tea Party is not some independent, libertarian-minded movement that’s fed-up with the Washington establishment. In its salad days, this may have somewhat been the case, but the movement was quickly co-opted by Fox News and Dick Armey (i.e. the Establishment) and turned into a vehicle for raging Obama-hate. To the extent that Tea Party stands for anything at all, they’re just extra-shitty Republicans, and as such, they favor whatever Republicans normally favor, just with more hostility and malice. Surveys have shown that far from being libertarian, Tea Partiers are staunch social conservatives who harbor a great deal of nativist and racial animus. The election of a black Democrat has terrified them into thinking that white, middle-aged Christians will lose their privileged place in society.

    The notion that the Tea Party is a backlash against Bush is a post hoc fabrication to explain away their complete silence during Bush’s spending spree, and their sudden freakout over deficits only after Obama took over the mess that Bush bequeathed him. It’s obvious that they do not actually care about deficits. (If they did, they would want to rescind the Bush tax cuts, his greatest blow to fiscal responsibility.) What they care about is that Obama had the nerve to win an election and steal the throne that is rightfully theirs, and deficits are simply a convenient means to attack him and stymie his agenda.

    Gingrich is popular with the Tea Party precisely because he spends most of his energy heaping scorn on Obama and anyone else who gets in his way. They love that shit. They want power and self-aggrandizement, not some principled libertarian policy agenda.

  • Maybe Bible-monster was telling “One-L” Bachmann to run as a third-party candidate?

  • Budbear

    …an insult to the intelligence of GOP primary voters.

    Is that at all possible? Can one further reduce that low a threshold ?

  • d cwilson

    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. A thousand times bullshit.

    Area Man, you beat me to it, but that was my first reaction when I read that statement as well.

    Prior to January 20, 2009, there was a tea party movement. It consisted mainly of a handful of Paulites whom nobody was paying any attention to. Back then, you could have made the case that it was about some heartfelt anti-Washington establishment principle.

    That ended the moment Obama was sworn in and the establishment co-opted the movement and turned it into the Seething Hatred for the Evil Kenyan Usurper Movement Brought to You by Fox. To claim that the tea party as it exists today is motivated even a teensy bit by some kind of latent resentment for Medicare Part D and NCLB is ludicrious.

    Amd the fact that the teabaggers are now embracing Newt Gingrich, whom even George Will had to admit is the poster child Washington Insider, proves it. Gingrich has won the Who Can Spew the Most Bile at the Evil Kenyan Usurper contest. That’s why the teabaggers love him.

  • MyPetSlug

    Here’s a reason Newt will not only not destroy the Tea Party, but make it stronger. If Newt wins the nomination and loses the election, the Tea Partiers can do a complete 180 and claim he lost because he wasn’t a “real conservative”, because he was too big government, and because he was not family values enough. I don’t think this is done consciously as a political strategy, but after an election loss there will always be a post hoc rationalization for why they lost. Just like McCain though, the rationalization can easily be that he was just not ideologically pure enough. In that case, not only would the Tea Party not face the reality that essentially what they want is impossible, but would lead to even louder calls for candidate purity.

    The same can be said even if Newt wins the election. If and when the Democrats eventually take back power for Newt, the Tea Party will rally because of a “backlash against Newt Gingrich and his big-government conservatism”. Only after he’s left office, of course. And I don’t think it has to do with racism. I agree with Ed and others that have pointed out, of all the arguments are just window dressing on pure tribalism.

    Personally, I think this will continue until the Tea Party gets exactly the candidate they want and have them lose miserably.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Personally, I think this will continue until the Tea Party gets exactly the candidate they want and have them lose miserably.

    Huh?

    The very nature of tribalism is that all losses are illegitimate. I remember quite a bit of commentary over the past couple of decades about how the Republicans were headed towards a “permanent majority.” They internalized that, it’s the World As It Should Be, and any deviation from it is going to launch them off onto another tantrum like we’ve seen the last few years.

    Like the KKK: they aren’t going to change their minds just because a bunch of America-hating moonbats, wetbacks, and jungle monkeys [1] conspire with ACORN to steal an election.

    [1] Oxford Comma haters can suck guano!

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    I’d have quoted Area Man @#2 for truth, but that would have entailed quoting the whole damn post. Bravo.

  • noastronomer

    “…but the rank and file will follow him right over the cliff.”

    If only.

    Otherwise Area Man said it all for me. The Tea Party is nothing but a thinly disguised racist organization. How could it be otherwise when they’re protesting against the same policies carried out or proposed by the previous administration?

    Mike.

  • @Area Man: To the extent that Tea Party stands for anything at all, they’re just extra-shitty Republicans, and as such, they favor whatever Republicans normally favor, just with more hostility and malice. Surveys have shown that far from being libertarian, Tea Partiers are staunch social conservatives who harbor a great deal of nativist and racial animus. The election of a black Democrat has terrified them into thinking that white, middle-aged Christians will lose their privileged place in society.

    Wholeheartedly agree. Gingrich is feeding the Tea Party exactly the red meat they crave, and it doesn’t matter to them one jot that he is the very antithesis of the type of politician they claim they want.

    @6:MyPetSlug: Here’s a reason Newt will not only not destroy the Tea Party, but make it stronger. If Newt wins the nomination and loses the election, the Tea Partiers can do a complete 180 and claim he lost because he wasn’t a “real conservative”, because he was too big government, and because he was not family values enough.

    Also wholeheartedly agree. Andrew Sullivan hopes (he is a conservative after all) that a Gingrich defeat will bring the Republicans to their senses, but I believe right-wing conservatives will pivot and once again feel betrayed and demoralized by the fact that a “Washington insider RINO” led their party to defeat, and that only by sticking to their ultra-conservative principles will they win back the White House. And they can point to their 2010 successes as evidence of how it can work.

    In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters what they do after the election, if Newt loses it for them. The 2016 Republican field will likely be much tougher than this sorry lot we have now, as many of the Republican heavy hitters are biding their time so that don’t have to run against an incumbent. And almost certainly the primary voters will once again plump for an establishment Republican when all is said and done.

    My main concern is who the Democrats will have in their corner. There is as much chance of Joe Biden assuming Obama’s mantle as there was Dick Cheney assuming Bush’s. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Hillary Clinton has a go though. She’s about as popular today as she has ever been.

  • MyPetSlug

    Re D. C. Sessions @ 7:

    I guess what I meant by “this” was the “current state of American politics”. Not necessarily the Tea Party in particular, but the sway they have on the Republican party. I agree with you that, the highly partisan who make up the Tea Party will not be swayed by any result, but if they ever actually succeed in nominating a Bachman, Cain, or Palin who gets crushed in an election, the Republican establishment would start to look upon them a lot less favorably. And the rank and file more interested in winning an election in general will (eventually) be turned off by them. It may take a while though.

  • D. C. Sessions

    My main concern is who the Democrats will have in their corner.

    There’s a decent chance of a serious populist (think Elizabeth Warren, but with more experience and connections) e.g. Sherrod Brown.

    I’m not real optimistic regarding Clinton or Warren, though, because frankly they’re both getting past their prime years for national campaigning. It’s not right — mid-to-late 60s used to be prime years for men, but I think television has changed that for men and has been even less kind to women.

    Which is a filthy shame. However, Warren as VP pick in 2016 might be damned interesting in a cigar-in-a-fireworks-factory sense.

  • d cwilson

    @D. C. Sessions:

    I agree. It may not be fair, but time is not on Clinton’s side.

    In political terms, 2016 is forever and a day away. A lot can happen. We’ll probably see governors who are sitting out this year like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie jump in. But many of the other prominant republican governors (Kasich, Scott, Walker) will be lucky if they can avoid being driven out of office by then. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz Cheney threw her witch’s hat into the ring.

    On the democratic side, it’s hard to say who the post-Obama standard-bearer will be, but if things keep going in the direction they are, expect whomever it is to run hard on anti-establishment platform.

  • walton

    He supported “comprehensive immigration reform,” perhaps the most divisive-among-conservatives policy initiative of the aughts.

    What I really can’t comprehend is how liberalization of the immigration laws is characterized by Tea Party conservatives as a “big government” policy. It’s exactly the opposite. The existing régime of ridiculous immigration laws in the US – worsened by the Clinton-era Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which Gingrich backed – make it virtually impossible for economic migrants from the developing world to move to the US legally, despite the huge market demand for their labour. The policy of restricting immigration is a classic protectionist policy – precisely the opposite of the free-market ideology that Tea Partiers claim to favour – and it’s grounded purely in racism, xenophobia and nativism. (The history of immigration laws in the US has always been based in racism, going right back to the Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and the racial quotas in the Immigration Act of 1924. There was never a rational economic or social justification for it.) If American conservatives genuinely adhered to the libertarian principles they espouse, they would support opening the borders and encouraging economic migration.

    This is one of the many reasons why I reject the Tea Partiers’ claims to be “anti-government”. When it comes to the enormous border-control security-industrial complex that is aimed at doing nasty things to people who happened to be born on the wrong side of an arbitrary border, they’re all for big government. (Customs and Border Protection is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the US, for fuck’s sake. And then there’s the steady stream of taxpayers’ money flowing to private corporations that run immigration detention facilities and the like.)

  • ArtK

    @ wilson

    What I really can’t comprehend is how liberalization of the immigration laws is characterized by Tea Party conservatives as a “big government” policy.

    They do that because if they called it what it they believe it is — a “let the brown people in to take over” policy — they’d be branded the racists that they truly are. The cry of “we’re against big government” is nothing more than their version of “plausible deniability.” The fact that they’re bone stupid and their idea of “plausible” is laughable to the rest of us is lost on them.

  • slc1

    Re Tacitus @ #10

    Assuming that President Obama wins reelection, the Democrats currently positioning themselves for a 2016 run include Governors Cuomo, and O’Malley and Senator Warner. Hillary Clinton will be 72 years old in 2016, making her a very unlikely candidate. This, of course, presumes that Cuomo and Warner can get reelected (O’Malley is in his second term and is unlikely to run again).

  • Azkyroth

    Giving people false hope like that should be illegal. 🙁

  • In four years Hillary Clinton will be the same age as Newt Gingrich is now, 68 years old. I agree there is a double standard, and I would prefer a younger Democrat who will actually champion liberal policies (probably a big ask, unfortunately) but I don’t think it’s beyond imagining that she would put her hat in the ring for 2016. Certainly if the Dem bench is ask weak as the Rep one this time around, people will be begging her to do it.

  • dingojack

    According to that fount of all wisdom*:

    “Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (… born October 26, 1947)… ”

    Thus on Tuesday 1st of November 2016 she will be 69 years, 6 days old.

    Dingo

    —–

    * Wikipedia

  • slc1

    Re tacitus @ #18

    Is Mr. tacitus opining that Cuomo, O’Malley, and Warner are chopped liver? A fair assessment would conclude that all of them are several cuts above the current Rethuglican field, with the possible exception of Huntsman.

  • Chris from Europe

    Is Warner even electable in blue states?

  • birgerjohansson

    My Pet Slug:

    “In that case, not only would the Tea Party not face the reality that essentially what they want is impossible, but would lead to even louder calls for candidate purity”

    …Even more candidates* who scare the voters away? So they would essentially auto-destruct as a political force? I love it!!!!

    * Like (wossname) who participated in Waffen-SS battle re-enactments.

  • Is Mr. tacitus opining that Cuomo, O’Malley, and Warner are chopped liver? A fair assessment would conclude that all of them are several cuts above the current Rethuglican field, with the possible exception of Huntsman.

    No, but it depends who runs, which depends on the state of the country/economy in 2015. Assuming Obama wins next year, if the world economy implodes again, and the Democrats continue to run from any evidence they have a backbone when it comes to standing up to the Republican party, then–like this year for the Republicans, the top tier candidates may chose not to run.

    And even if they do, there is always a chance of another John Edwards situation, where a seemingly strong candidate implodes. As such one can easily imagine a scenario where Clinton is persuaded to put her cap in the ring. Not likely, maybe, but very possible.

  • ron c.de weijze

    “The Tea Party is primarily an exercise in tribalism, not a set of principles.”

    – I disagree. The Tea Party is brought together by the principle of people independently confirming other people’s opinions on specific subjects of concern. No groupsism (or tribalism) and no cronyism. And no elitist power-distancing. It is the perfect answer to the new economy of followers buying into whatever or whoever earns their attention and using the same “currency” to be counted themselves.

    http://crpa.co/CRPA-Philosophy-General.htm