Lib­eral tea party:

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL KANE paul.kane@wash­ @PKCapi­tol

Will a new ris­ing top­ple Demo­cratic lead­ers?

Grass-roots move­ments can be the life and death of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. It’s a well-worn story now about how John A. Boehner, then House mi­nor­ity leader, joined a ris­ing star in his cau­cus, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in April 2009 for one of the first ma­jor tea party protests in the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can’s home town of Bak­ers­field.

A lit­tle more than six years later, af­ter they surfed that wave into power, the move­ment con­sumed both of them. Boehner was driven out of the House speaker’s of­fice, and McCarthy’s ex­pected suc­ces­sion fell apart, leav­ing him stuck at the rank of ma­jor­ity leader.

Democrats are well aware of that his­tory as they try to tap the en­ergy of the roil­ing lib­eral ac­tivists who have staged ral­lies and marches in the first three weeks of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency.

What if they can fuse these pro­test­ers, many of whom have never been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive, into the lib­eral fir­ma­ment? What if a new tea party is aris­ing, with the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm to bring out new vot­ers and make a real dif­fer­ence at the polls, start­ing with the 2018 midterm elec­tions?

The women’s marches that brought mil­lions onto streets across the coun­try the day af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion — spurred or­gan­i­cally through so­cial me­dia — opened Demo­cratic lead­ers’ eyes to the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

With a 10-day re­cess be­gin­ning next week­end, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has in­structed her mem­bers to hold a “day of ac­tion” in their dis­tricts, in­clud­ing town halls fo­cused on sav­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. The fol­low­ing week­end, Demo­cratic sen­a­tors and House mem­bers will hold protests across the coun­try, hop­ing to link arms with lo­cal ac­tivists who have al­ready marched against Trump.

“It was im­por­tant to us to make sure that we reach out to ev­ery­one we could, to visit with them, to keep them en­gaged, to en­gage those that maybe aren’t en­gaged,” Rep. Ben Ray Lu­ján (D-N.M.), chair­man of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, told re­porters at a Demo­cratic re­treat in Bal­ti­more that ended Fri­day. The trick is to keep them aim­ing their fire at Repub­li­cans and Trump, not turn­ing it into a cir­cu­lar fir­ing squad tar­get­ing fel­low Democrats.

“Now we want peo­ple to run for of­fice, to vol­un­teer and to vote,” Lu­ján added.

It’s too early to tell which di­rec­tion this move­ment will take, but there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to the early days of the con­ser­va­tive tea party.

In early 2009, as un­em­ploy­ment ap­proached 10 per­cent and the home mort­gage in­dus­try col­lapsed, the tea party emerged in re­ac­tion to the Wall Street bailout. It grew through­out the sum­mer of 2009 as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Democrats pushed to­ward pas­sage of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Many of the pro­test­ers were newly en­gaged, po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive but not ac­tive with their lo­cal GOP and of­ten reg­is­tered as in­de­pen­dents. Their ini­tial fury seemed di­rected ex­clu­sively at Democrats, given that they con­trolled all the levers of power in Wash­ing­ton at the time; the pro­test­ers fa­mously pro­voked rau­cous show­downs at Demo­cratic town halls over the Au­gust 2009 re­cess.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer’s first brush with the anti-Trump lib­eral move­ment came in a sim­i­lar fash­ion to Boehner and McCarthy’s Bak­ers­field foray in 2009. Orig­i­nally slated to de­liver a brief speech at the Women’s March in New York, Schumer in­stead spent 41/2 hours on the streets there, talk­ing to peo­ple he had never met. By his es­ti­mate, 20 per­cent of them did not vote in Novem­ber.

That, how­ever, is where Schumer must surely hope the sim­i­lar­i­ties end.

By the spring and sum­mer of 2010, the tea party rage shifted its di­rec­tion to­ward Repub­li­can pri­mary pol­i­tics. One in­cum­bent GOP sen­a­tor lost his pri­mary, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) de­feated the Ken­tucky es­tab­lish­ment fa­vorite, and three other in­sur­gents knocked off other sea­soned Repub­li­cans in Se­nate pri­maries (only to then lose in gen­eral elec­tions).

One force that helped the tea party grow was a col­lec­tion of Wash­ing­ton-based groups with some wealthy donors, no­tably the Koch-funded Amer­i­cans For Pros­per­ity, who po­si­tioned them­selves as the self-de­clared lead­ers of the move­ment. For the next few years, they funded chal­lenges to Repub­li­can in­cum­bents, spark­ing a civil war that ran all the way through the 2016 GOP pres­i­den­tial pri­maries.

Democrats want and need par­al­lel out­side groups to in­ject money and or­ga­ni­za­tion into their grass roots. There are signs it is hap­pen­ing: The thou­sands of ac­tivists who protested at a series of rau­cous town halls hosted by Repub­li­can con­gress­men over the past week were urged to ac­tion in part by so­phis­ti­cated pub­lic­ity cam­paigns run by such pro­fes­sional lib­eral en­ter­prises as the In­di­vis­i­ble Guide, a blue­print for lob­by­ing Congress writ­ten by for­mer con­gres­sional staffers, and Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion.

What is less clear is whether such en­ergy and re­sources will re­main united with Demo­cratic lead­ers — or will be turned on them, as hap­pened with the tea party and the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment, if the ac­tivist base grows frus­trated with the pace of progress.

There have been signs of lib­eral dis­gruntle­ment to­ward Demo­cratic lead­ers. Pelosi and Schumer (D-N.Y.) were jeered by some in a crowd of more than 1,000 that showed up at the Supreme Court two weeks ago to protest Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der travel ban. Marchers showed up out­side Schumer’s home in Brook­lyn, de­mand­ing he “fil­i­buster ev­ery­thing” and com­plain­ing that he sup­ported Trump’s Cabi­net mem­bers in­volved in na­tional se­cu­rity.

But there are two key dif­fer­ences be­tween the con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral move­ments: their fund­ing, and their ori­gins. Some anti­estab­lish­ment lib­eral groups have feuded with lead­ers, but they are poorly funded, com­pared with their con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­parts. And the tea party came of age in re­ac­tion not only to Obama but, be­fore that, to what the move­ment con­sid­ered a be­trayal by Ge­orge W. Bush’s White House and a ma­jor­ity of con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans when they sup­ported the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

There is no sim­i­lar orig­i­nal sin for Democrats, as the lib­eral protests have grown as a re­ac­tion to Trump, not some fail­ing by Schumer and Pelosi.

Schumer re­mains un­con­cerned about the few pro­test­ers who are an­gry at Demo­cratic lead­ers. “I think the en­ergy’s ter­rific. Do some of them throw some brick­bats and things? Sure, it doesn’t bother me,” Schumer said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

How the lib­eral ac­tivists re­spond to early de­feats may be the next sign of which di­rec­tion the move­ment takes. Their de­mand that Schumer block Trump’s Cabi­net is im­pos­si­ble to sat­isfy, be­cause a sim­ple ma­jor­ity can con­firm these picks. All Schumer can do is drag out the de­bate, which he has done to an un­prece­dented de­gree.

The stakes will be even higher for the Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion of Judge Neil Gor­such, whose life­time ap­point­ment still re­quires a 60vote su­per­ma­jor­ity to reach a fi­nal con­fir­ma­tion vote. A Trump vic­tory on Gor­such might de­flate the lib­eral pas­sion, and some think that was the main in­gre­di­ent miss­ing for Democrats in 2016.

“We just didn’t have the emo­tional con­nec­tion,” Pelosi told re­porters in Bal­ti­more. “He had the emo­tional con­nec­tion.”


Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), seen on Capi­tol Hill, met the new in­sur­gency at a Jan. 21 Women’s March.

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