The Tea Party Battles to Come
Three unrepentant veterans of the shutdown brawl say they're eager for primary election fights with a goal of remaking the GOP.
Only three weeks have passed since the end of the tea party-inspired government shutdown, yet already the group's citizen activists find themselves in the eye of another political storm. Republican-oriented business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation are now threatening to challenge tea party-favored primary candidates, especially if they appear to be in the Ted Cruz scorched-earth political mold.
These business interests and a growing number of GOP insiders are fed up with tea party tactics that they believe have become a negative political force for a Republican Party that is now suffering record-low approval ratings. One business leader recently compared its influence to the Occupy Wall Street crowd taking control of the Democratic Party.
The tea party's answer to the GOP establishment threats: Bring it on—we aren't backing down. That's the message I gleaned from recent interviews with three of the movement's most prominent leaders: Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, Amy Kremer of Tea Party Express and Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots.
After 20 years working behind the scenes in Washington, Mr. Kibbe is well-seasoned in political warfare. Ms. Martin, a former computer programmer and Home Depot manager, and Ms. Kremer, a former Delta flight attendant, are relatively new to such conflict. The two women are both mothers living in Georgia—one of the states where the tea party first took root four years ago—and they reflect the group's typical profile: white, middle class, well educated, sick of politics as usual and driven by a conviction that America must be rescued from impending ruin caused by Washington's profligacy.
These three don't always agree on tactics, and they often compete for money and media attention. But they share an overall assessment of what is wrong with Washington and what needs to be done. Like many local tea party activists I have spoken with, they generally view the government shutdown not as a tactical blunder but as an example of weak-kneed Republicans muffing an opportunity to roll back ObamaCare.
more at linkhttp://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304799404579157472640303530
"I don't have any regrets," says Ms. Kremer, who attended the original meeting in August when Sen. Mike Lee of Utah unveiled the plan to defund ObamaCare. Mr. Kibbe is similarly unrepentant. Asked what went wrong, he replies: "We just didn't anticipate the Republican circular firing squad in the Senate or the vicious attacks directed at Mike Lee and Ted Cruz." He still thinks the GOP could have won.
Kibbe didn't anticipate Republicans responding to their constituents.
Many on the left and right hoped that the tea party movement would fizzle, but its influence, especially inside the GOP, seems to have increased. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz acknowledges that the defund ObamaCare and government-shutdown power play simply wouldn't have happened without the organizing efforts of activists across the country. Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks led this mobilization. They have combined annual budgets of more than $30 million and claim between six million and 12 million active members.
That is pretty impressive.
What's next on their agenda? Beyond still vowing to roll back ObamaCare—how, precisely, isn't clear— Ms. Kreme says "one of our immediate priorities is to enforce the budget caps and sequester." Even the defense cuts, which many military hawks think could endanger national defense? "With a $17 trillion debt," she says, "everything has to be cut."
I'm on board.
The animus from the business wing of the GOP doesn't scare the tea party leaders. Ms. Martin scoffs: "We're not surprised big businesses are opposing us. These are mostly crony capitalists who want something from government."
Mr. Kibbe is similarly disdainful: "I used to work at the Chamber of Commerce. The chamber supported the original version of HillaryCare back in 1993 and the precursor to ObamaCare. They supported the bank bailouts and the Obama stimulus. We are not for any of that." As for the prospect of business backing candidates specifically to challenge tea party choices, Ms. Kremer says: "If it's business money versus tea party grass-roots activists, I like our chances."
That'll win people over to their side.