Tea party activist David Lewis’s announcement Friday that he plans to mount a primary challenge to House Speaker John Boehner could indicate a larger problem for the GOP leadership, and point to restlessness among an important segment of the tea party faithful.
Republican leaders face a growing perception among some tea party factions that they are not interested in holding the Obama administration’s feet to the fire on spending. Some say the Republicans talked a good game going into the 2010 midterms but have failed to deliver since winning control of the House of Representatives.
“Everybody knows that the debt ceiling deal was a completely fraudulent deal,” Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, told The Daily Caller. “We were told that if we passed this deal we wouldn’t be downgraded, but we were still downgraded.”
Meckler warns that Republicans and Democrats could both face an electoral bloodbath in the 2012 primaries if they do not do more to hold the line on taxes and spending.
“What we have here in Washington, D.C. is, one, people who are just stupid, or two, they are lying,” Meckler said. “I think it’s both. They don’t understand economics, and they’re lying.”
Meckler criticized House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for throwing away bargaining chips with the White House in successive partisan fights going back to the spring tussle over a government shutdown. (RELATED: Jon Stewart bashes Democrats, not tea party, on summer debt ceiling debacle)
“I’ve taken a number of negotiation classes, and I’ve been a business attorney for a long time, so I know a bit about negotiating,” Meckler added. “The Republican leadership comes to the table and say, ‘We give up.’ I just don’t understand that as a negotiating strategy.
“We are heading off the cliff right now, not two years from now, not 10 years from now, even assuming we could get an ironclad balanced budget amendment.”
Meckler said Tea Party Patriots doesn’t plan to run designated candidates to mount primary challenges, but his group does plan to encourage tea partiers to become heavily involved in their local primaries.
Still, recent history doesn’t bode well for primary challengers. Only four incumbents lost their 2010 primaries, and the typical average is just three per election cycle.
Utah GOP Senator Mike Lee told The Daily Caller that congressional leaders in both parties cannot afford to ignore discontent in the tea party movement, a group that tends to support him. Lee predicts 2012 will be an even bigger election for tea partiers than 2010.
“According to CNN, the values of the tea party represent the values of 75 percent of Americans,” Lee insists.
The Utah senator is less than optimistic about the deliberative outcome of the Joint Congressional Committee on Deficit Reduction. And he predicts a tea party backlash if the “super committee” it doesn’t do a satisfactory job.
But South Carolina GOP Senator Jim DeMint, also a significant player in tea party movement, dismissed Meckler’s cautions.
“I think ‘bloodbath’ is the wrong term,” DeMint said. “There will be some healthy debate in the primaries, but there are a lot of tea parties. I’m getting tired of one person saying they speak for the tea parties.”
A spokesman for the Tea Party Express, one of the most influential national tea party factions, called on members to take a more realistic view of the predicament the GOP leaders find themselves in. They note that Democrats still control the White House and the Senate.
The spokesman said the 2010 midterm victories were part of a longer-term strategy that includes putting a Republican in the White House and taking control of the Senate in 2012 — and then pushing through a filibuster-proof GOP Senate majority in 2014.
“Just having the House [means] you can’t just dictate to members of the other areas of government,” said Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee. “The president is hell-bent on spending more money and on taxing more, and on decreasing the ability of our wonderful free-enterprise system to work.”
“The Senate is intent on doing virtually nothing before the 2012 election,” Price continued, “because Sen. [Harry] Reid has some grand fear that if they doing anything over there, that they might be held to account by their constituents.”
Price suggests that tea party members should focus their anger on President Obama, and on Senate Democrats who refuse to make any budget cuts and tackle the national debt.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could not be reached for comment for this story.