The Tea Party is the only thing worth a damn about the GOP

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare
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The Tea Party has had one major legislative achievement: the sequester. By 2011, the movement was able to exert enough pressure on Republicans to ensure spending cuts would be a part of the budget deal.

The Ryan-Murray budget deal kills the sequester. Still, the GOP needed to show it could avoid another government shutdown and wants to distance itself from Tea Party “extremists.”

I agree. A second shutdown would be a terrible strategy.

But ditching the sequester? Now Republicans have no real leverage to cut spending or shrink government.


For as long as Republicans have been promising to cut spending, those cuts have never come. In 2011, thanks to the Tea Party and the sequester, Republicans’ small government rhetoric finally got real.

The entire episode of the Budget Control Act, from 2011 to this week, should make clear to everyone that the only way Congress is ever going to cut spending is to put a gun to their head. The sequester was supposed to force Congress to decide to cut in a more responsible manner in a year’s time. Of course, they never did. They can’t cut, or won’t and never will. They’ve proven this time and again.

The sequester was the needed gun, the looming threat, the one guarantee there would be cuts. Now it’s gone. Supporters of the Ryan-Murray budget deal promise that cuts will come over a decade. Anyone who’s observed Washington for longer than a minute knows those future spending cuts are about as likely to happen as defunding Obamacare was. Paul Ryan asks conservatives to trust Congress to make cuts in 2016 as he discards cuts from 2011.

The existence of Santa Clause is more plausible.

But if spending reductions do materialize in future budget deals in the only way they ever really can — by making cuts the law of the land as the sequester did — it will be most likely due to the efforts of the Tea Party movement. Democrats will never reduce spending because their governing philosophy is inextricably bound to infinite spending. Without Tea Party Republicans that leaves any hope for real cuts in the hands of John Boehner and his friends. Yes, I’m laughing too.

It is true that the unpopularity of the Tea Party-inspired government shutdown is what helped give the establishment of both parties the political leverage to jettison sequestration. But we must also recognized that there never would’ve been a sequester in the first place, or any hope of cutting today, tomorrow or in the future, if not for the outside pressure coming from a movement such as the Tea Party. The value of forcing Republicans to finally live up to their limited government rhetoric cannot be underestimated and that credit goes entirely to the dynamic grassroots movement.

In all the areas where the GOP has begun to improve, or most differentiated itself from the Obama administration, Tea Party Republicans have been at the forefront.

When Senator Rand Paul filibustered over drone policy and due process, it attracted support from across the ideological spectrum, energizing the conservative base like no event in recent memory. When Congressman Justin Amash became the face of the Republican fight against NSA mass surveillance in the House, he had similar broad support with much of that energy coming from grassroots conservatives.

Tea Party-affiliated groups like Heritage Action, Freedomworks and others not only blasted the Ryan-Murray plan for getting rid of the sequester, but have expanded their agendas to include opposing intervention in Syria and the NSA’s warrantless surveillance.

Whatever the GOP is becoming, this is not Dick Cheney’s Republican Party anymore.

And without the Tea Party, that type of big government Republicanism is essentially all that would be left. Conservatives who won’t have the Tea Party should show us which political force or movement they expect to provide enough muscle to effectively attack big government.

Outside of the Tea Party, that will and effort currently doesn’t exist.

The government shutdown was damagingly unpopular with a majority of Americans and it hurt the GOP. But Obamacare is even more unpopular. So is Washington’s refusal to cut spending. Unnecessary foreign interventions are unpopular. So is mass NSA spying.

On each of these issues, it is Tea Party Republicans that have stood with the majority and against the establishment of both parties. Stories demonstrating the Tea Party’s unpopularity usually cite the shutdown or popular perceptions of the movement as kooks (Birtherism, clumsy language about abortion, etc.) without really delving much into policy or specific issues.

The name “Tea Party” is currently unpopular. What the movement has stood for on a regular basis, is not.

Republicans fed up with the Tea Party over the government shutdown can, and should, point out their mistakes. But they should also remember that the only substantive limited government conservatism seen in a generation in the Republican Party comes almost exclusively from this overly maligned grassroots movement.