Thursday, November 14, 2013

POLITICS - Tea Party's 2014 Prospects

"Did the Shutdown Hurt the Tea Party’s 2014 Prospects?" by Amy Dean, In These Times 11/13/2013


The Tea Party lost big by forcing this fall's government shutdown, and it is slated to take a major hit in next year's midterm elections.  Such is the current wisdom, in any case, among mainstream political pundits.  But this analysis is too easy.  It imagines that progressives will make gains without the hard work of organizing.  And it presumes that Democrats can put forward a compelling agenda that will give people something to vote for, rather than merely expressing distaste for Washington altogether.

To get a more nuanced take on the political fallout of the shutdown, I spoke with longtime electoral strategist Steve Cobble.  He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a co-founder of Progressive Democrats of America and a senior political adviser to Free Speech for People, a group engaged in the fight to roll back Citizens United and end the idea that corporations are people.  Cobble served as a leader in the Jesse Jackson campaign of 1988 and more recently in Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

Given his background, Cobble identifies with the Democratic Party, yet he is consistently critical of the party's neoliberal wing.  In our conversation, he questioned whether the Democrats' fear of populism and failure to seriously challenge Wall Street will allow the Tea Party to hold on to the populist mantle–and to retain strength because of that.

I started by restating the common belief that the Tea Party will suffer electoral setbacks because of the shutdown.  Cobble jumped in immediately.

“I don't believe that,” he said.  “If the Tea Party is going for a smaller party that's more pure, they're not necessarily deterred by getting beaten.  [With incidents like the shutdown,] they just feel like they got sold out, so they redouble their efforts.  At some point, this process will curdle on itself and collapse, but I don't think we've reached that point yet.  I think the Tea Party's going to keep fighting.  If the Republican caucus in Iowa for president was next week, I think Ted Cruz would win it.”

Interestingly, Cobble believes that the Tea Party's fight with Wall Street Republicans will allow it to strengthen its populist appeal.

“One of the interesting dynamics of the Tea Party that's going to come up,” he argued, “is that they're going to get into primary fights with the Wall Street wing of the Republicans.  That's not necessarily bad for the Tea Party, because one of the quickest ways to get back in the fight is to have Wall Street–one of the most hated parts of the American scene–start trying to take out your champions.  At that point, you can run against both Washington and Wall Street.  Their primary fights will have a funny way of reinforcing their argument that they're the ones who like Wall Street the least.

“There's a huge resentment on the far Right and the far Left, which actually extends quite a bit toward the middle of average Americans, that Wall Street screwed us and then bought off Washington–and got away with it.  I think there's still power in that argument. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party's not making it.  No one thinks that the monetary penalties that the Justice Department is administering on the banks are real penalties.  As somebody wrote the other day, it's like a traffic ticket to JPMorgan.  The only person who goes to jail is Martha Stewart.

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