By Robert A. Vella
Soon after the Tea Party rose to political prominence in 2009-2010, speculation about an impending “GOP Civil War” became a frequent topic of discussion in the news media as well as in the public at large. This doomsaying seemed understandable considering that extremist Tea Party candidates, such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, were blamed for Republicans’ failure to capture the U.S. Senate in 2010 and their subsequent poor performance in 2012 with the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and a pushed-to-the-right Mitt Romney. During the 2014 primaries, open civil war appeared to be on the verge of breaking out in the GOP when upstart Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel tried unsuccessfully to unseat incumbent Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi who then threatened to boycott the general election over charges of Cochran’s “illegal” pandering to Democratic black voters which gave the (well deserved) impression that McDaniel was a racist.
Then, something happened which threw all that speculation into the dustbin of history. Republicans circled the wagons, focused their message, and cruised harmoniously to overwhelming victory in the 2014 midterms. Democrats, on the other hand, were shocked to see their base supporters not voting in droves.
So, what the hell happened? Why was the conventional wisdom so wrong?
Mainstream punditry prefers style over substance debates. Furthermore, America’s institutions – particularly the media – are biased against the kind of left-wing (anti-capitalist) populism prevalent in the Democratic Party. Unless it manifests into a truly monumental story, such as the 2011 Occupy protests, the news media generally avoids discussing leftist politics.
The division between the GOP establishment and its populist Tea Party faction is primarily stylistic, not substantive as House Speaker John Boehner revealed this week. From The Hill – Boehner rips right for raising money by ‘just beating the dickens out of me’:
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is blaming conservative groups in Washington for turning him into a human pinata to raise money.
In an interview to air on Sunday’s “60 Minutes” on CBS, Boehner said he doesn’t disagree that much with conservatives on policy, but that the groups beat “the dickens out of me” in order to line their own pockets.
“The issue with the Tea Party isn’t one of strategy. It’s not one of different vision,” Boehner said, according to excerpts released by CBS.
“It’s a disagreement over tactics, from time to time. Frankly, a lot is being driven by national groups here in Washington who have raised money and just beating the dickens out of me,” Boehner said in the joint interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“It works. They raise money, put it in their pocket, and pay themselves big salaries,” Boehner added.
What Boehner is saying here is that he basically agrees with the Tea Party agenda, but disagrees about how to implement it. He understands and appreciates the political costs associated with brazen ideology, while Tea Partiers are much more single-minded in their pursuits.
Conversely, the establishment versus populist divide in the Democratic Party is primarily substantive, not stylistic (for an example, see: Battle lines are drawn on TPP trade deal: Its Obama and GOP versus the Populists in both parties); and, that is why this problem is far more detrimental to their political future than it is for the GOP. The corporatists who control the funding of the Democratic Party are as averse to the policies of economic populism as Republicans. The dilemma for Dems is a case of either getting big money or big votes. Since it appears they can no longer get both, that choice seems to have already been made.