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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — As most Republicans were taking a victory lap the morning after the elections, a group of conservatives huddled anxiously in a conference room not far from Capitol Hill and agreed that now is the time for confrontation, not compromise and conciliation.
 
Despite Republicans’ ascension to Senate control and an expanded House majority, many conservatives from the party’s activist wing fear that congressional leaders are already being too timid with President Obama.
 
They do not want to hear that government shutdowns are off the table or that repealing the Affordable Care Act is impossible — two things Republican leaders have said in recent days.
 
“If the new Republican leadership in the Senate is only talking about what they can’t do, that’s going to be very demoralizing,” said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group that convenes a regular gathering called Groundswell. Any sense of triumph at its meeting last week was fleeting.
 
“I think the members of the leadership need to decide what they’re willing to shut down the government over,” Mr. Fitton said.
 
Establishment Republicans, who had vowed to thwart the Tea Party, succeeded in electing new lawmakers who are, for the most part, less rebellious. And when the new Congress convenes in January, the Republican leaders who will take the reins will be mainly in the mold of conservatives who have tried to keep the Tea Party in check.
 
But they have not crushed the movement’s spirit.
 
As Republicans on Capitol Hill transition from being the opposition party to being one that has to show it can govern, a powerful tension is emerging: how to move forward with an agenda that challenges the president without self-destructing.
 
Some conservatives believe that the threat of another shutdown is their strongest leverage to demand concessions on the health care law and to stop the president from carrying out immigration reform through executive order. Yet their leadership has dismissed the idea as a suicide mission that could squander the recent gains.
 
One thing that will prove popular among the base is a commitment by Senator Mitch McConnell, the presumptive new majority leader, to bring up a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which he is expected to do next year.
 
Whether the party can reconcile more demands of its base with the will of its leadership could determine how enduring the Republican Senate majority will be. The crop of senators up for re-election in 2016 includes those elected in the first Tea Party wave of 2010. And in a sign of what is at stake, even some of them are sounding notes of compromise and caution that would have been unthinkable at the height of the right’s resurgence.
 
“I understand the frustrations of the conservative base; I am one of them,” said Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the original class of Tea Party-inspired senators. “I also recognize reality.”
 
“We’re not going to pass the entire conservative agenda tomorrow. We can certainly lay it out,” Mr. Johnson added. “Let’s start with the things we can pass. Doesn’t that make more sense?”
 
But in a stark reminder of the difficulties Republican leaders will face from within their own ranks, other lawmakers popular with the Tea Party base are saying the fight is on.
 
As votes were still being counted on election night Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Republicans could still work through Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — even though the president is guaranteed to veto anything Congress passes that undermines it. “After winning a historic majority, it is incumbent on us to honor promises and do everything humanly possible to stop Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview.
 
Some Republican senators rejected that outright. “There are intelligent things to do, and there are some not-so-intelligent things to do,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. “And one of the first things we should do is find some areas of common ground with our Democrat friends.”
 
Tea Party conservatives, many of whom argue that the government shutdown last year was a sound strategy, said they were baffled by remarks after the election by Mr. McConnell that the Senate under his control would prioritize policies that Republicans knew Democrats would also support.
 
Many also fumed when Mr. McConnell stated the obvious: Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act because they cannot override a presidential veto on their own. (It takes 67 votes to do so; they have 52 seats now, with the possibility of picking up two more.) The next day, he and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal insisting that, indeed, repeal remained a goal.
 
Any perception that Mr. McConnell is not sufficiently committed to repealing the health care law, despite his running hard against it in his own re-election campaign, would renew the same fissures among Republicans that preceded the government shutdown.
 
“That would cause a civil war inside the Republican Party,” said Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative activist, referring to anything the party’s base saw as a halfhearted attempt at repeal. “There’s almost zero trust between the base and the Republican leaders.”
 
No one did more to demoralize Tea Party candidates and conservative agitators than Mr. McConnell, who vowed to “crush” every Republican primary challenger. (He did; none defeated an incumbent senator.) He also blacklisted Republicans who worked with groups supporting insurgents.
 
Privately, McConnell aides say they are less concerned these days about the impact of senators like Mr. Cruz, whom they describe as an “army of one.” Mr. McConnell believes his standing with conservative voters is solid. And he has the votes to prove it. He won his own primary over a Tea Party conservative, 60 percent to 35 percent. An NBC News/Marist College poll showed him beating his main primary opponent 53 percent to 33 percent among Tea Party voters.
 
He and his allies dismiss their Tea Party opponents as “for-profit conservatives” because of the fund-raising they do in the name of purifying the Republican brand.
 
“The for-profit wing of the Republican Party will always have a voice, but after this last election, they don’t have much credibility,” said Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior political strategist. “I’m not sure many folks will listen to it much longer. Governing still matters, and the good news is, everybody who was elected is into governing.”
 
Most of the Republicans just elected to the Senate appear to be team players. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana are all low-key members of Congress. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is the speaker of the State House and a favorite of the party establishment.
 
Still, Tea Party conservatives are a formidable voting bloc. Mr. McConnell will have to negotiate an especially cautious balance between their demands and those of the senators in his conference who are contemplating running for president in 2016, and so need the support of the party’s base. With no one is this more fraught than Mr. McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian, Senator Rand Paul. Mr. Paul and his advisers say that they recognize Tea Party supporters helped deliver the Senate for the Republicans, and that the party ignores them at its peril.
 
“They showed up,” said Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Mr. Paul. “You can’t look at the turnout models, the polling pre-election and the results, and not think that conservatives showed up for this. They did.”
 

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