* Republican, Tea Party ideology dovetails on fiscal affairs
* As economy heals, Tea Party to become irrelevant, analyst
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 Tea Party candidates may have
spoiled Republican chances of taking control of the U.S. Senate,
but the small-government movement will continue to hold sway in
Washington for at least the next few years on fiscal - if not
social - issues, experts said on Wednesday.
If not for the poor performance of some Tea Party-backed
Senate candidates in both the 2012 and 2010 elections,
Republicans could have been in the majority in the chamber.
Instead, much to Republicans' dismay, Democrats have actually
The ground is strewn with the bodies of failed Tea Party
candidates in states where Democrats otherwise would have been
sent to their own political graves: Todd Akin in Missouri and
Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012; Sharron Angle in Nevada and
Christine O'Donnell in Delaware in 2010, to name a few.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the head of the
Tea Party Caucus - Michelle Bachmann - appears to have just
barely dodged defeat on Tuesday, while colleagues including
Allen West and Joe Walsh were not as fortunate.
"The Tea Party is over," crowed the Democratic Congressional
That conclusion could be premature, as Republicans are
showing every sign of hanging tough in their drive to keep taxes
low, including for the wealthy, and to limit government spending
- central philosophies they share with the Tea Party movement.
The top U.S. Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, said as
much on Tuesday night, when he proclaimed that Obama had no
mandate to raise taxes on the rich, even though the president
had scored a solid re-election victory and Democrats increased
their membership in the Senate.
Boehner put Democrats on notice after Republicans, who won
the House in 2010 thanks to big Tea Party victories, retained
power in the chamber.
And so when it comes to budget and tax issues, Republican
leaders in Congress may have to continue answering Tea Party
"Boehner still needs to keep his back to the wall on these
folks," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution who follows Congress.
Ron Bonjean, a former top aide to House and Senate
Republican leaders, added, "If you're Speaker, you are going to
take the hardest line possible that reflects the Republican
conference. And it's unlikely you budge from that position
unless President Obama comes your way with concessions."
Hess also noted that Senate Republican leader Mitch
McConnell, who faces re-election in 2014, must be on the watch
for primary-season challenges from the Tea Party, along with
Senator Lindsey Graham. The same goes for Senators Saxby
Chambliss and Lamar Alexander, according to other political
And so, Hess said, Republicans like McConnell and Graham
still have to court the Tea Party, much like Senator Orrin Hatch
successfully did the past two years. Conversely, Senator Richard
Lugar - soon to be former Senator Richard Lugar - found that
ignoring Tea Party forces can be perilous.
A House Republican aide predicted that Boehner's warning
against letting income taxes rise on the rich was not just an
opening line in upcoming "fiscal cliff" negotiations with
Democrats. "It's his bottom line," the aide added.
While Boehner easily won re-election on Tuesday night to his
House seat, he still has to run in January for re-election as
Speaker. And so he might want to limit the number of tough votes
he forces fellow Republicans to cast on taxes and spending
before that leadership election.
Next week, however, Republicans will elect other mid-level
party leaders, which could demonstrate the reach of the Tea
Tea Party activist Tom Price is vying against Cathy McMorris
Rodgers, a Boehner protege who at times has been more of a
centrist than Price.
TEA PARTY OBITUARY?
For all the attention Tea Party activists got last year,
when they nearly brought the federal government to a grinding
halt during a struggle with Democrats over the budget deficit
and federal debt, and for all the muscle-flexing they continue
to do, Hess said the loosely knit group's years are numbered.
As the U.S. economy grows healthier, Hess said that this
political movement - born out of panic and anger over the
deepest recession since the Great Depression - will become
increasingly more irrelevant.
He envisioned an Internet obituary for the Tea Party that
would read something like this: "A group of people who had an
impact on the Republican Party in an organized sense between
2010 and 2016."
But for the time being, the Tea Party, despite its foibles,
has played and continues to play a constructive role for
Republicans, Bonjean said.
"The Tea Party has pulled Washington as a whole to their
(Republican) side of the field by demanding more fiscal
responsibility. They forced the president to the table on budget
negotiations," Bonjean said.
Social issues are another matter, though, with Republicans
apparently gaining little advantage when the Tea Party wades
into abortion, immigration or other hot-button matters.
Akin's Senate bid sunk after he talked about "legitimate
rape" this summer, while Mourdock faded when he said that
pregnancy after rape could be "something that God intended."
So if Democrats, as expected, begin pushing social issues
next year, such as comprehensive immigration reform, analysts
say that Republican leadership scrapes with the Tea Party could
be on public view, especially as the party tries to figure out a
way to begin appealing to a growing Hispanic population.