2010 vs. 2014: Obamacare and the Fall of the Tea Party

For a couple of weeks now, we have been hearing Republicans howling and hollering about the Tea Party pressure to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded. While Speaker Boehner keeps up the impression that he is ready for a budget fight with the president in the next months to extract deep cuts in order to pay the bills Congress already approved, Republican senators - even very, very conservative ones - are cracking down on the Teabagger craze.

Wingbats like Ted Cruz are still desperate, and the Heritage Foundation is threatening members of Congress that they will "rate" them on defunding Obamacare as a precondition to fund the government. But in the mean time, people that the 2010 Tea Party sweep brought to office are weary of the move, from Scott Walker to Bob Corker. The efforts to keep the government open on the parts of these Republicans aren't sitting well with the Tea Party "grassroots." Teabaggers feel disillusioned, angry and ready to either primary some Republicans or sit at home on election day.

Ironically, much of the Tea Party took shape in protest to the Affordable Care Act - or at least, a caricature of it. That, and the patently absurd fantasy that President Obama was exploding the budget deficit. Now with the deficit falling at the fastest pace in 60 years and health care close to being fully implemented, exactly the same issues that united the Right in 2010 are now causing potentially lethal fractures. Why?

Ultimately, you can't ignore facts. The truth is that it isn't exactly the Affordable Care Act or the budget deficit themselves that united the Republican coalition three years ago. It was the myth that the Right created about them combined with the fear of a black man in the White House that drove the Republican flood to the polls in 2010. That's what brought the GOP success that year. That and the Professional Left's well crafted campaign to keep as many Democrats home as they could, because of the lack of various rainbow-farting ponies in the President's first two years in office.

But with the 2010 electoral success, the Republican party also turned another page: it gained a committed group of activists whose loyalties belonged to the maintenance of various mythical versions of the president's policies and the president himself and not to the electoral success of the Republican party. When Republican leaders refused to strongly condemn the intrinsic racism of the Tea Party, hoping instead to make them part of a permanently successful GOP coalition, the inmates began to take over the asylum. Their myth of Obama as the Devil became their reality, and they expected the entire Republican party to live by that myth. They began to believe in another dangerous myth: the 2010 elections all but foretold the 2012 elections, and Obama was doomed.

That myth wasn't shattered for them until President Obama trounced Mitt Romney last year. But while the president's thumping victory nevertheless failed to kill the root myth that held the Tea Party together - Obama was still the devil.

The calculation for the Republican electoral professionals, though, had changed. After a whole year of conducting "polls" to show that Mitt Romney would win with 300 or more electoral votes and Karl Rove's meltdown on Fox News over Ohio's election results, some of the Republicans had began to realize that speaking only to the southern white racists would no longer be enough to gain political power. Some had realized this, but not the Tea Party. Even if they did realize it, it didn't matter to them. As I said before, the Tea Party's allegiance belongs to maintaining the Obama-as-Devil, health-reform-as-death-panel, and Obama-as-big-spender myths, not to what is in the practical electoral interest of the GOP.

In that mindset, it's no wonder that when the GOP's electoral interests are in avoiding a budget confrontation with the president - he has beaten them to the pulp a few times on it after all - close to an election year, the Tea Party is more interested in shutting down the government. It's no wonder that just when the Republican adults (I use the term very loosely) are realizing that health reform is here to stay and there is nothing they can do to stop it, the Tea Party is appalled that the Republicans aren't making a last ditch attempt to kill it.

The Republican intelligencia also knows that once people begin being able to sign up for health insurance without their rates being hiked for pimples to being a woman, they will not take kindly to people who shut down the government so that they couldn't have those benefits. So they would like not to make too much noise about that right now, please.

Too bad. The noisemakers can no longer be passed on as just a few and the fringe in their party. They are now their party's luminaries and strong 2016 nomination hopefuls (not that any of them can actually get elected President, so I don't think it's proper to refer to them as presidential hopefuls). At the end of the day, the Republican party in Congress is just fractured enough to make a lot of noise about shutting down the government and yet incapable of actually carrying out that threat. The Tea Party rose up with the caricature of Obamacare. Now they will fall with the reality of it.


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