The congressional vote at the turn of the New Year should tell us something about what to expect in 2013. Although a boiled down half-measure aimed at avoiding the fiscal cliff passed, a strong "no" vote from the far right bucked Speaker Boehner's leadership. The fact that a new session in January will bring in new faces, will not likely change the shape of this obstructive bloc. Remember, Tea Party-endorsed candidates won nearly 80% of their House races last house November, a higher rate than in 2010. They will likely oppose every moderate or slightly progressive proposal over the year to come.
In eleven states with more than one Republican congressman— Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Utah—the entire Republican delegation voted against the legislation. Although the Tea Party Caucus in the House did not vote as a unified bloc, 49 of the 59 current members voted against the last minute measure. Dan Burton of Indiana did not vote.
In the Senate, Tea Party Caucus member Jerry Moran from Kansas voted yes. Caucus members Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and Tea Party favorites Richard Shelby and Marco Rubio, however, voted no. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a voice for the Tea Party on Capitol Hill, did not vote. He is moving over to lead the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage Action, the political arm of the foundation, publicly opposed the negotiated deal. So did Tea Party Patriots, based in Georgia, and FreedomWorks, the D.C. Tea Party organization that has been wracked by an internal split. Former Congressman Dick Armey, the founder of the organization, has been forced out by FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe, although Armey's $8 million golden parachute should ease some of his pain.
Speculation is rife that the troubles in FreedomWorks, combined with a failure to unseat Obama last November will lead to the slow disintegration of the Tea Party movement. The losses suffered by Tea Party-backed Senate candidates are sometime listed in this regard, although the more dangerous data from the House races is often ignored.
While there is every reason to believe that the fight inside FreedomWorks could damage the Tea Party movement's reputation among potential supporters, a closer look at the situation points to more nuanced conclusions. Liberal and progressive critics often cited Dick Armey's presence at the top of FreedomWorks as proof that the Tea Parties were not a movement at all; but were rather a Republican Astroturf confection. In this latest inside battle, Armey apparently did oppose sending money to several mutinous Tea Partiers who were running against established Republican politicians—a sign that his heart was more with the Republican establishment than the insurgents. The fact that Armey lost this fight and that several of FreedomWorks millionaire donors helped to oust him, signals a more—not less—radical Tea Party movement in the future.
While mainstream opinion makers believe that the Republican Party should move closer to the center if it hopes to win future national elections, we can expect Tea Partiers to try and push it further to the right wing edge. Thus, one of the things we should expect is further conflict within Republican ranks.
One of the other changes we should expect after Dick Armey's departure is the development of a younger, more libertarian oriented FreedomWorks persona. According to an article in The Hill, Kibbe announced that he hoped to pull FreedomWorks closer to the "Ron Paul Millennials," a reference to the thousands of young people who have been attracted to Ron Paul's libertarian campaigns—often without understanding the deeply undemocratic character of the Texan's proposals. Paul supports repeal of the Constitution's Seventeenth Amendment, (thus ending direct election of United State Senators) and ending birthright citizenship (embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment).
There are several problems FreedomWorks must face in this transformation, however. Kibbe told The Hill that his FeedomConnector cyber outreach vehicle has two million supporters. But IREHR research indicates that the actual number is 228,816. His ranks appear to be much smaller than Kibbe claims. Plus, FreedomWorks will have to challenge groups like the Campaign for Liberty for the organizational allegiance of its younger supporters. Ron Paul has been building the Campaign since its founding in 2008, and many of the younger members already have entrenched loyalty that they will not abandon for a younger, prettier FreedomWorks. Add this looming conflict among libertarians as one of weak points in the Tea Party apparatus in the future.
The weakest point in the Tea Party movement's armor, however, is not its internecine battles or its quarrels with establishment Republicans or its success or failure rate at the polls. Its weakest point is its quite unconstitutional effort to undermine and change the United State Constitution. Tea Party Nation has again announced its opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment in a piece entitled "How to repeal the 14TH, 16TH, AND 17TH Amendments and restore the rights and powers to the states."
Why is it the weakest point in the movement? Because many of its non-member supporters do not yet know that the movement's goals include eviscerating key democratic component of the Constitution they claim to revere. The Tea Parties have built their reputation on an attempt to "restore constitutional government," while all the while aiming to undo the same constitution. Such advocacy, once it is widely known, is a massive piece of hypocrisy that could scuttle much of the movement.
For the coming year, however, the extent and power of the Tea Party-induced bloc of "no" is likely to maintain its strength. Human rights advocates can expect progress on immigration reform, environmental regulation and climate change, violence against women and women's rights, the protection and extension of voting rights, trade unionism and a fair-shake economy to be slow and piecemeal at best. One way to help break the Tea Party movement's ability to block progress on these issues is to support the fight against its re-rendering of the Constitution. Support the Fourteenth Amendment, birthright citizenship and equality before the law.
Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Devin Burghart is IREHR vice president.
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