Déjà vu all over again: Tea Party tactics and realpolitik | The Hill

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., look at vote totals during the roll call vote on the motion to adjourn for the evening in the House chamber as the House meets for a second day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023.

After the French Revolution, when the Bourbon regime was restored to power, the French statesman Charles Talleyrand remarked, “They learned nothing and they forgot nothing.” That may also be true of the Republican Party after Donald Trump.

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is hell-bent on revenge. Revenge for what? For eight years of Barack Obama and his hated Obamacare program. For Republican insiders who foisted establishment figures like George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney on what is supposed to be the conservative party. For the twice-impeached Donald Trump and the “stolen” 2020 presidential election.

House Republicans have already authorized a select subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives. They intend to investigate President Biden and his son and the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

Bipartisanship may be necessary to govern, but it is likely to become less feasible. Bipartisanship is required just to pass the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster.

You might think that with a narrow majority, House Republicans will have a powerful incentive to stick together. But the opposite appears to be happening. The speakership battle has empowered the radical right. A handful of hard-core conservatives are using their power as leverage to extract concessions from party leaders: Do what we want, or your majority will vanish.

What do they want to do? That’s where something surprising is happening: The Tea Party is back.

The Tea Party movement sprang up in 2010 as a backlash to Obamacare. It was a protest movement among conservatives to slash government spending and enforce ‘fiscal responsibility.’ It resulted in huge Republican gains in the 2010 midterm election — net GOP gains of six Senate seats, 63 House seats and six governors.

Spending cuts disappeared in the pandemic. President Trump signed a $2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package just before leaving office in 2020. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan added another $1.9 trillion shortly after he took office in 2021. The newly empowered House Republicans are now eager to cut back. “Debt, deficit and the fiscal house — that is a major priority for House Republicans,” one of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) key allies told the Washington Post.

Hard-right Republicans may be willing to create a crisis as leverage to justify radical spending cuts. Like threatening to shut down the federal government or to default on the national debt. “Make no mistake,” Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) said. “The debt ceiling issue in and of itself is intended to leverage better policies moving forward as it relates to spending.”

Those tactics have been tried before, and they have always backfired.

Americans know the difference between a genuine crisis like the pandemic and a crisis created by politicians like a government shutdown.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told the Post, “We’re not going to give the extreme Republicans their wish list in exchange for them simply allowing the country to pay its bills on time.”

But many House radicals were not in Congress during previous fiscal showdowns. The hard-right Republicans who revolted against Speaker McCarthy included a lot of members who are in their first or second terms.

President Trump made bipartisanship — which is necessary for governing a divided country — far more difficult. The Trump approach to politics was not to build coalitions but to rally your base and overwhelm your opponents. While Trump himself has lost influence — after 2018, 2020 and 2022, many Republicans see him as a loser — he has spawned a generation of Republican “mini-me”s who imitate his confrontational style.

Every day, new issues turn into culture war battles.

Trump’s grievance politics started with immigration and quickly expanded to sexual politics, pandemic policies, aid to Ukraine, election fraud, anti-government insurrection, education curriculums and now “woke” military policy and regulation of household gas stoves.

The prize is the relatively moderate House Republicans.

Will they stick with Speaker McCarthy, who got elected by capitulating to the radical right, or can President Biden peel off enough of them to create a governing majority?  That is likely to depend on which is the greater threat to their survival, a right-wing primary challenge or a Democratic opponent in the general election.

Bill Schneider is an emeritus professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable” (Simon & Schuster).


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