Without even much kicking and screaming (beyond in Republican primary fights), the Tea Party has successfully dragged America to to the right. The shift is revealed in new reports that President Obama now is scrambling to manage both Democrats angry about Obamacare — which is his job — and moderate Republican business leaders — which is not. In a new report today, Bloomberg News summarized the president's new political outreach: "How can the administration help House Speaker John Boehner?" How, in other words, can he get Republicans away from the far-right edge?
It happened so quietly, America almost didn't notice. Obama's reelection in 2012 suggested to some that the era of the Tea Party's influence had faded. But the shutdown made clear that it hadn't. The two-week government shutdown is often blamed on a far-right group in the House Republican caucus, but that underestimates the extent to which the party has been consumed by the Tea Party's arguments.
The Tea Party has taken over the Republican Party.
The Washington Post's Aaron Blake and Sean Sullivan point to polling showing that the Tea Party and the GOP are largely indistinguishable from the outside — certainly in part thanks to party leaders' acquiescence on the shutdown. "Views of the GOP and the tea party are virtually the same across all demographics. Fifty-five percent of moderates say the GOP is too conservative, versus 52 percent who say the same of the tea party," they write. "In other words, if the tea party has moved the GOP to the right — and it has — it has done so to such an extent they are now viewed as ideologically very similar."
Earlier this month, National Journal outlined differences between establishment/traditional Republicans and Tea Party Republicans on a series of issues related to the government closure. The Tea Party positions were, obviously, the more conservative ones on both economic and social issues — but they are also the positions that the Republican Party has adopted in every recent fight. The reason for this is obvious: far-right conservatives have demonstrated a willingness and ability to take out Republican politicians it deems insufficiently orthodox on conservative positions. And so, Republican elected officials hew more closely to far-right positions.
Obama is left to manage the Republican middle.
The divide between the far right and the Republican establishment — what was once known simply as the Republican Party — has been a signal feature of the still-nascent "civil war" in the GOP. Business interests, the strongest existing bastion of moderate Republicanism, have begun taking on Tea Party interests, at least in fundraising. (When it comes to political strategy, business' track record isn't terribly robust.) The reason business is willing to go to war with the Tea Party is the threat posed by the threat to default on the nation's debt last month, a possible economic calamity blithely endorsed by the far right.
Bloomberg reports on Wednesday that Obama is now stepping in to try and get business leaders to join his policy efforts.
During a meeting in the West Wing of the White House this month, President Barack Obama’s aides posed an unusual question to business leaders across the table: How can the administration help House Speaker John Boehner?
Obama, Bloomberg reports, has been regularly meeting with business leaders in an attempt to figure out how to give Boehner the support he needs to step back from the far-right cliff. In the wake of that outreach, business is apparently willing to join forces with a president often regarded by corporate interests as hostile. Leaders form financial firms, tech companies, even McDonald's have met with Obama and his staff, if not to receive marching orders than at least to put their heads together on how to ensure a positive business climate. This outreach isn't new, but the two sides have a newfound reason to work together.
Frustrated Democrats want an escape valve on Obama's signature progressive policy.
The Obama administration's insistence that the problems with Obamacare will fade and the policy will become a political asset isn't doing much to assuage concerns from Congressional Democrats. The Hill gave some an opportunity to (mostly anonymously) rail against Obama:
Democrats around Capitol Hill say there are lots of people to blame for the debacle that has engulfed them. But increasingly the anger is directed at one person only: Obama.
“Is he even more unpopular than George W. Bush? I think that’s already happened,” said one Democratic chief of staff.
Among the possible political solutions posited by Democrats? A minor walkback on insurance cancellations. Willingness to change the most progressive legislation the body has passed in years is significant — not that "most progressive" is a high bar to jump, but it's still one that was cleared. “People here want to be on the record showing support for fixing the problem,” an anonymous aide said, complaining about Obama's failure to understand that desire.
This, too, is a move to the right. Obamacare was unassailable by Democrats last month. Now, thanks to the administration's ineptness and messaging mistakes, it's become urgent for a wobbly Democratic base. The Hill: "'Here we are, we're supposed to be selling this to people, and it’s all screwed up,' one chief of staff ranted. 'This either gets fixed or this could be the demise of the Democratic Party.'"
We noted earlier this week that the argument that Obamacare will doom the party is premature, but that hasn't stopped the argument from being made. Rep. Michele Bachmann trumpeted the idea on Tuesday. "Liberalism is crumbling in front of our eyes," she told reporters.
If it's the case that Democratic policies will suffer long-term damage, Obamacare is probably only a symptom. It's the push from Bachmann and other Tea Party activists that's moved the political center to the right that makes robustly liberal policies less likely. Liberalism's weakness doesn't stem from policy. It stems from politics.