Analysis: Republican leaders heed Tea Party but risk backlash
Aug 4, 2011, 9 a.m.
By Tim Reid
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Emboldened by concessions wrung from their own leadership and President Barack Obama during the debt limit fight, Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers will likely remain a driving force in the Republican Party -- and possibly induce gridlock until the 2012 elections.
The several dozen fiscally conservative, small-government members in the House of Representatives played a significant role in forcing John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, to abandon efforts to forge a bipartisan "grand bargain" debt limit deal with Obama because it contained revenue increases -- and their clout will continue, analysts say.
The struggle to avert a catastrophic default ended August 2 when a deal to raise the debt limit was finally struck and signed into law by Obama.
The fight over the debt ceiling exposed a fundamental rift inside the Republican Party between the Tea Party movement newcomers, many of whom believed a debt default was actually needed to get America's spending under control, and traditionalists such as Boehner who said a deal had to be struck to increase the United States' borrowing authority.
A wave of Tea Party-affiliated members was elected to Congress in the November 2010 mid-term elections, propelled by voters furious about a bad economy and government spending.
"This wave hasn't crested yet," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"The momentum among voters generally is completely about cutting spending. There is this fissure inside the Republican Party -- between the Tea Party absolutionists and the strongly conservative traditionalists -- but they all agree that the debt has to be taken care of."
'NO MODERATE WING'
Sabato predicted political gridlock and battles until the November 2012 presidential elections.
"The right is energized. They can rally against Obama, healthcare, spending, unemployment, the debt. There is no moderate wing of the Republican Party. The party is very conservative, and is basically in agreement.
"It will remain very conservative and intransigent," Sabato said. "What could possibly change them? Why would they cooperate? What's the incentive?"
Stu Rothenberg, an independent political analyst, said Boehner and Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement will be able to coexist in the short term.
"John Boehner used to be one of the most conservative members. He came to Washington as a bomb thrower, he wanted to cut government, he wanted to reform things. Now he is the mainstream of the party. That just shows you where the party has moved to."
Boehner will continue to be forced to consider Tea Party Republican's views, Rothenberg said, "because he will need their help along the way. The Tea Party will be a significant force throughout the next year and a half."
But he predicted serious problems if the Tea Party Republicans gain more clout.
"If they are ever in charge -- if the Republicans win the White House or control the White House, Senate and House, you will see civil war break out," Rothenberg said. "The Tea Party will think okay, now we can run the place. They will expect everything they want to be passed. It will be a huge problem for whoever the president is."