Tea Party faction hurts GOP constituency

Christina Coleburn, Contributing Columnist

Although many have vocalized their dissatisfaction with the recent government shutdown, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham best captured the collective sentiment — “This has been a really bad two weeks for the Republican Party.” After furloughing 800,000 workers and costing the American economy $24 billion, pitiless gambles made in the pursuit to defund the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have nothing to show for it except falling favorability numbers. The source of the GOP’s woes begins and ends with the Tea Party, an increasingly extreme faction. In 2010, Tea Party candidates surged from their pledges to challenge the health care law through ruthless strategy. Three years later, the absurdity of their tactics has become glaringly evident to the American public and embarrassingly detrimental to the GOP.

Despite Republican denial that the GOP is not fractured, the government shutdown is painfully indicative of this harsh reality.The GOP establishment must confront the Tea Party if it intends to salvage its legitimacy and remain electorally competitive beyond the safeguard of solidly red districts. Although establishment Republicans palpably fear the consequences of defying the Tea Party — namely being challenged by a more conservative candidate in a primary election — they should seize the ripe opportunity that has been granted.

A recent Pew Research Center poll conducted after the government shutdown revealed 49 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of the Tea Party. Even more encouragingly, the same survey showed only 27 percent of moderate Republicans viewed the Tea Party favorably, a dramatic decrease from its 46 percent favorability rating in June. These numbers represent a rare chance for Republicans to rebrand their image, refine their message and refute allegations that the GOP is more committed to excessive partisanship than effective politics. The widespread backlash over the shutdown, particularly directed towards Republicans, is emblematic of an inconvenient truth. Only a miniscule portion of the country believed that closing the government was a responsible counteraction.

Still, more significant than the bargain that concluded this senseless shutdown is the electoral bargain politicians all initially made. We send representatives to Washington, D.C. to responsibly act in our interest, not threaten stability and then feebly apologize in the hope of securing undeserved reelection. The Tea Party flirted dangerously with extremity, causing a crisis for which they will probably never take responsibility. Republicans should hold the group accountable, not only for the legitimacy of their party, but also for the security of the political system.


A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 21 print edition. Christina Coleburn is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected].