Tensions between Republicans and tea party supporters which began as a few seemingly random salvos have now become a full barrage, and will go fully nuclear by 2012 — threatening both sides with mutually assured destruction.
Leave it to the GOP, the party that embraces short-term prosperity based on deficit-financed tax cuts, to be as short-sighted in its alliance with the tea party.
What’s surprising isn’t that the Republicans are paying for their marriage of convenience, but rather that the repercussions are coming so soon.
It wasn’t that long ago that Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was the tea party poster boy for winning Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. But last month tea party queen Sarah Palin trashed Brown for his “antics,” which apparently involve occasionally siding with Democrats when doing so would actually benefit his constituents.
The eruption of antagonism on the Right didn’t end there, continuing to explode in recent days as the official Republican Party openly tried to destroy a tea party-backed candidate. In Delaware. Christine O’Donnell on Tuesday beat Republican Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican nomination for Senate in the First State. Castle has been a popular moderate in Delaware and was expected to take Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat. It’s now much more likely today that Democrats will keep it in their column come November.
The chairman of the Delaware Republican Party railed against tea party folks from outside the state coming in to “destroy our civility, and tell the people of Delaware they know more about our state than we know.”
This rapidly growing animosity between Republicans and their erstwhile tea party allies is only the beginning.
If, despite the rising rancor, Republicans holds enough of the tea party to take back even one side of Congress this fall, the recriminations will rise to radioactive levels.
If Republicans succeed in recapturing a majority in the House or Senate this year, they will bear some responsibility to join in governing, and mere obstruction will no longer suffice.
That means, inevitably, taking realistic policy positions that will be at odds with the ideological purity apparently valued by tea party followers.
Tea party fans may not like, or even realize this, but most Americans aren’t necessarily in their corner. A recent poll found more independents and moderates are turned off by tea party candidates than would vote for them.
Republicans, ultimately, will have appeal at least to some degree to those independents, moderates and even conservative Democrats in order to be re-elected two years from now. Scott Brown certainly found that to be true.
The solutions that Republicans employ to solve problems in order to reach out to independent and moderate voters aren’t likely to find favor with the tea party crowd.
Once that happens, the tea party base the GOP is relying on, will fall away, and come 2012 Republicans will have no base to rally.
Democrats, meanwhile, will remember that they need to fight and will become re-motivated to vote. Not only will President Obama be re-elected easily, Democrats will retake Congress and the GOP will have presided over one of the shortest majorities in history.
One of these days, Republicans will learn that short-term gain only leads to long-term pain.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as The Tea Party Time Bomb on Blogcritics.