Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Nation failed to push the government into a shutdown. They did succeed, however, in driving the Republican leadership close to the brink. In so doing, the Tea Party movement as a whole can justly claim to have turned the public debate toward a discussion of how large the budget cuts should be. Desperately needed policy proposals for jobs programs, by comparison, were pushed to sidelines.
On March 31, Tea Party Patriots held a “Continuing Revolution” rally in Washington, D.C. “Cut it, or shut it,” was the chant of the day. Although only 200 Tea Party activists attended, Congressmen Mike Pence of Indiana, and about ten members Congress and the Senate were present to speak. Pence appeared emboldened by the event, telling Tea Partiers “It’s time to pick a fight!” He claimed that a government shutdown might be needed to protect their “children and grandchildren.”
Tea Party Nation’s founder Judson Phillips also pushed the Republicans toward a “no compromise” position. In an April 7, “An Open Letter to John Boehner,” Phillips claimed that both Democrats and Republicans were guilty of not listening to the American people. According to Phillips, Speaker of the House John Boehner made less sense than Charlie Sheen. The “Tea Party reaction to his tenure has ranged from lukewarm to very displeased,” he wrote. Phillips advocated doing “something radical”—cutting $300 billion from this years budget (not the $30-$60 billion figure that was bandied about during negotiations.
The effect of all the Tea Party chatter was measurable. Prior to the budget deal, more than half of self-identified Republicans (51%) said they wanted their party to “hold out for the basic budget plan they want, even if that means the governments shuts down,” according to an April 6, Gallup poll. By contrast, 27 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Independents believed a shutdown was preferable to compromise. An April 4 Pew poll found roughly similar opinions among regular Republicans. Among those who “agree with the Tea Party,” however, the number jumped to 68 percent who believed a government shut down was favored over compromise.
By pushing hard on the Republicans, the Tea Parties managed to push President Barack Obama as well.