Teabaggers Still Just Embarassed Former Republicans

Last time, in case anyone is still confused – the “tea party” is just the rump Republican base with tricorne hats on. These are not new voters:

There are now more Republican-leaning independents among independents in general than there were in 2006, but the main reason is that the number of actual Republicans has significantly declined.

OK, so why has the weight of Republican-leaning independents among independents increased? This is a tricky question, but possibly the most important single factor is that there has been an actual decrease in the number of straight Republican identifiers among registered voters (down 2 points) which has produced a concomitant increase in the number of Republican-leaning independents over the 2006-2010 time period. It’s also interesting to note that that this switch can account for most of the 3 point overall increase in independents over the time period.

Fuzzy Thinking

Dent Vs. the Tea Party on Abolishing Department of Education

At the State Theatre debate, Jake Towne stated that he would support abolishing the Department of Education – a position supported by Tea Party activists and 111 Republican incumbents and challengers, including would-be Speaker John Boehner.

To the great disappointment of his conservative base, Charlie Dent declined to support abolishing the Department, but promised to slash its funding if given the opportunity.

But though the base is champing at the bit to end the federal role in education (perhaps they would like universal homeschooling?), cuts in education are among the most hated by the broader electorate – certainly in this Democratic district:

The last time the Republicans made a concerted effort to eliminate the Department of Education in 1995, they ran into a strong public backlash. Polling conducted by Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of respondents in June 1995 wanted the Department of Education to be maintained, while just 17% wanted it eliminated. With a new New York Times/CBS poll finding that education funding is the last area respondents would like to see spending cuts, it’s no stretch to imagine that a strong majority of Americans still support the Department of Education.

Nevertheless, because there exists widespread support for eliminating the Department of Education in the Republican ranks, the issue could soon come to the forefront in a GOP-controlled Congress. A comprehensive review of the voting records and statements of Republican incumbents and candidates finds that there are 111 GOPers who support shutting down the Department of Education. Though a minority (35 percent) of sitting Republicans are on record supporting elimination, the anti-education bloc will undoubtedly swell in the next Congress due to the 36 new GOP candidates who favor shutting down the Department.

This is likely why Dent tried so hard to keep Jake Towne out of the debates. The conservative policy agenda is deeply unpopular, but with Towne acting as the true right wing standard bearer on fiscal policy, it was inevitable that Dent would have to fess up to some really ugly beliefs to avoid pissing off his core supporters.

Welfare Is OK When It Helps White People

Matt Taibbi has been doing an excellent job covering the teatards:

You see, when a nice white lawyer with a GI Joe beard uses state aid to help him through tough times and get over the hump – so that he can go from having three little future Medicare-collecting Republican children to eight little future Medicare-collecting Republican children – that’s a good solid use of government aid, because what we’re doing is helping someone “transition” from dependency to economic independence.

This of course is different from the way other, less GI-Joe-looking people use government aid, i.e. as a permanent crutch that helps genetically lazy and ambitionless parasites mooch off of rich white taxpayers instead of getting real jobs.

I can’t even tell you how many people I interviewed at Tea Party events who came up with one version or another of the Joe Miller defense. Yes, I’m on Medicare, but… I needed it! It’s those other people who don’t need it who are the problem!

Also don’t miss Taibbi’s hilarious article in Rolling Stone on his time among the teabaggers in Kentucky following the Rand Paul campaign. It’s certainly not going to persuade anyone who doesn’t already believe these people are morons, but it’s great writing.

Not So Different After All? The Tea Party and the Progressive Grassroots

In today’s Morning Call, Scott Kraus takes a closer look at the Lehigh Valley’s Tea Party movement. What he found probably won’t surprise anyone. The Tea Party members he interviewed voted Republican before becoming involved in the Tea Party. They are concerned about government spending. And, like this Orlando Tea Party member, they are not fans of President Obama.

One person who might have been surprised last Tuesday night was Charlie Dent, who saw Mathew Benol, a Tea Party member who ran against him the primary, garner 17% of the vote. Benol had, by all accounts, no money to speak of and little organization. Given that, his performance was remarkable.

If you follow the Tea Party locally, you’ll know that they have an active email list and regular meetings, including book clubs discussing everything from Ayn Rand to the Federalist Papers to Saul Alinsky (!) and have even started a fledgling youth group. According to Kraus, several ran for spots as Republican Party Committee persons. In short, they are building an organization that they see as both running parallel to and intersecting with the Republican party.

This model isn’t unique, of course. Progressive groups like Democracy for America pioneered the use of Meetup. Organizing for America’s (OFA) local groups continue with varying levels of activity, and have a similarly close-but-wary relationship with the official Democratic party. In Bethlehem, the very strong OFA group opted to re-name itself Organizing for a Better Bethlehem (OFFAB) in order to maintain local control and identity. And, as with the Tea Party, at least one Bethlehem OFFAB leader ran for and won a slot as a Democratic Committee person in Lehigh County this year.

Both groups also struggle with questions of endorsements and which issues should take precedence given the limited capacity any grassroots group has for organizing.

Only time will tell if the passion and commitment of the local Tea Party and OFA movements will continue, and whether that passion will yield more primary challengers or coalesce behind establishment Republican and Democratic leaders.

Our Constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly have created a nation in which these two groups offering such different views of the world can use the same advocacy and organizing tools toward their goals. Both groups would probably agree that this is a very good thing.

Charlie Dent Runs to the Fringe

Charlie Dent knows which way the wind is blowing. With the primary just three weeks away, Dent is running to the fringe, proudly brandishing the endorsement of the far right Independence Hall Tea Party PAC. At a speech in Philadelphia, Dent rattled off a litany of Republican hokum designed to assure the Tea Partiers that he shares their ignorance of recent economic history.

In his speech, he claims Obama has raised taxes (not true), he calls the ACA a “government takeover” (roundly debunked, even by the likes of Fox News), and he rails against the Democrats’ “amnesty proposals” – positioning himself with his anti-Latino colleagues in the Immigration Reform Caucus. I guess it’s safe to say Dent will not be competing for the votes of Latinos who make up 10% of the general electorate in his district.

Most importantly, Dent is standing firmly behind the crackpot Tea Party conspiracy theory that the real motive behind Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obamas’ interventions to stabilize the economy and fortify the private health insurance system is nothing less than a Socialist Power Grab.

In the short term, having the backing of the right wing fringe may help Dent win the affections of the rabidly conservative primary electorate, but in the long term, this endorsement is going to be toxic in his moderate Democratic-leaning (D+2) swing district. For better or for much much worse, Dent now owns the Tea Party.

Republican Primaries Are Not About Issues

John Micek has several good posts on the right wing Pennsylvania Leadership Conference from this past weekend. I think this bit about Sam Rohrer and Tom Corbett is especially instructive:

But as the two men made what could well have been their final, concerted pitches to a roomful of Pennsylvania conservatives before the May 18 primary on Saturday, their respective tones could not have been more different.

At times sounding more like a man of the cloth than a man on the stump, Rohrer, a state House member from Berks County, told attendees at the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference that ”genuine leaders of movements don’t hide, they define their differences. They state their principles and, if necessary, they die for them.”

In some of his most pointed rhetoric of the spring campaign, Rohrer offered the crowd a clear definition of his policies — smaller government, lower taxes and a return to the constitution — while staying well clear of any direct attacks on his opponent.

Corbett, the two-term attorney general, addressed the crowd in much the same way a corporate executive might address a roomful of middle managers.

In a concise speech, he calmly reeled off a laundry list of campaign promises that included cutting corporate taxes, encouraging school choice and restoring public trust in government.

Let’s be clear that both Republican candidates for Governor are offering exactly the same policy agenda – it’s the same Reagan boilerplate (tax cuts, small government, privatize and deregulate) that has been the cornerstone of every Republican campaign, regardless of actual economic conditions, since 1980. There is no daylight between them on the issues.

But this primary, along with the Benol-Dent primary and every other Republican primary this cycle, is not about issues – it is about the murkier, more subjective question of authenticity. The Republican base is radicalized, and believes that Obama is a dangerous foreigner with a covert plan to turn the country into a Socialist dystopia. To win primaries, Republican candidates have to reassure the wingnut base that they too are sufficiently frightened of Nancy Pelosi, and personally harbor the same paranoid, incorrect delusions about recent history that Glenn Beck does.

This is not about voting records. Charlie Dent has been perfectly obedient, standing shoulder to shoulder with John Boehner on every major issue of the 111th Congress – happily for me, since it means I’m winning a $200 bet with Bernie O’Hare that Dent doesn’t have the balls to break with the House GOP on any major issue this Congress. Does anyone actually believe that Dent, Benol, Towne or any generic conservative wouldn’t all be voting exactly the same way on the issues this Congress?

What matters instead to Republican base voters, and what is truly driving the dynamic of all these Tea Party primaries, is which candidate’s personal style best reflects the teabaggers’ own paranoia; who is the true Tenther nut who is prepared to pronounce every program enacted since 1776 unconstitutional. It will be interesting to see how Dent and Corbett will alter their public temperaments to endear themselves to the fringe.