The calls for a split mark a new, more acrimonious chapter in the long-simmering conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based talk-radio host, said his audience has never been angrier. “They’re tired of electing a bunch of Republicans who care more about what the media thinks about them than what the people who elected them think,” he told me. “Why do I care whether John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House? Why do I care whether Harry Reid or ‘Ditch’ McConnell is the Senate majority leader? What changes? Nothing changes.”
To Deace, “political-party disintegration” is on the horizon. And he’s not alone: Sean Hannity, on his radio show on Monday, said he’d previously opposed a third party, but “I’m not so sure anymore. It may be time for a new conservative party in America. I’m sick of these guys.” Ann Coulter’s new book is titled Never Trust a Liberal Over 3—Especially a Republican. Groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action wear their contempt for GOP elites as a point of pride, and spend the bulk of their resources campaigning against rather than for Republican officeholders.
The Republican establishment, these conservatives say, doesn’t seem to understand that the Tea Party isn’t a wing of the GOP. “It’s an autonomous force,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. In emails and conversations across the country, Martin told me, she’s hearing more rumblings about taking the Tea Party out from under the GOP than ever before, though the organization hasn’t taken a position on it. “When either party is doing the right thing, the Tea Party stands with them," she said. "And when either party is doing the wrong thing, we hold them accountable.”
The recent government shutdown, and the infighting it laid bare between Republican factions, convinced many conservatives that the institutional GOP would rather sell them out than stick up for them. “There are two views on the right. One says more Republicans is better; the other says better Republicans is better,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy for the Tea Party group FreedomWorks. “One view focuses on the number of Republicans in the Senate, the other on the amount of fight in the senators.”
When Beck made his appeal to "defund the GOP," he told his listeners to stop giving money to Republican committees and give to FreedomWorks instead. "We kind of agree," Clancy told me. “Giving to the party committees is wasted money, because they’re just incumbent protection clubs .... Sometimes you have to beat the Republicans before you beat the Democrats. Just because they're 'our guys' doesn’t mean they'll be our guys when it counts."
Dissatisfaction within the ranks appears to be one driving factor in the record-low approval numbers recorded for the Republican Party in several recent polls. A Gallup poll last week, for example, found just 28 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the GOP, the lowest level of support in the two decades Gallup has asked that question. Among Republicans, 27 percent saw their party unfavorably—twice the percentage of Democrats who held a dim view of their own party.