Tea party los­ing steam

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Lisa Mas­caro AP writer

With only three dozen orig­i­nal tea party mem­bers still in the U.S. House seek­ing re-elec­tion, the dif­fer­ence be­tween rid­ing a wave and gov­ern­ing has be­come ap­par­ent.

The Repub­li­can new­com­ers stunned Wash­ing­ton back in

2010 when they seized the House ma­jor­ity with bold prom­ises to cut taxes and spend­ing and to roll back what many viewed as Barack Obama’s pres­i­den­tial over­reach.

But don’t call them tea-party Repub­li­cans any more.

Only eight years later, the House Tea Party Cau­cus is long gone.

So, too, are al­most half the 87 new House Repub­li­cans elected in 2010 — the big­gest GOP wave since the 1920s.

Some, in­clud­ing cur­rent Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and White House bud­get di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, joined the ex­ec­u­tive branch. Oth­ers slipped back to pri­vate life.

Sev­eral are sen­a­tors.

Now, with con­trol of the House again at stake this fall and just three dozen of them seek­ing re-elec­tion, the tea-party re­volt shows the dif­fer­ence be­tween rid­ing a cam­paign wave and the real­ity of gov­ern­ing.

Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Pa­tri­ots, says ev­ery move­ment “goes through phases.” This one could per­haps be called the “cool-down” phase.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., who was pres­i­dent of that fresh­man class, ob­jects to the “tea-party” brand at all. He says it was slapped on the group by the me­dia and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “We weren’t who you all said we were,” Scott said.

Never mind the tea-party slo­gan penned on so many protest signs: “TEA: Taxed Enough Al­ready.”

That’s a la­bel some law­mak­ers now would rather for­get.

Scott prefers to call the move­ment “small­busi­ness own­ers” or those who wanted to “stop the growth of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

De­spite all those yel­low “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and anti-Obama health law ral­lies, Scott said the new Repub­li­can law­mak­ers wanted to work with the pres­i­dent, if only Obama would have en­gaged them. “We didn’t come to take over the coun­try,” he said.

Yet change Wash­ing­ton they did, with a hard-charg­ing, often un­ruly gov­ern­ing style that bucked con­ven­tion, top­pled GOP lead­ers — and in many ways set the stage for the rise of Don­ald Trump.

Tea-party Repub­li­cans forced Congress into mak­ing dras­tic spend­ing cuts, in part by threat­en­ing to de­fault on the na­tion’s debt — thereby turn­ing a once-rou­tine vote to raise the U.S. bor­row­ing limit into a cud­gel dur­ing the an­nual bud­get fights.

They halted en­vi­ron­men­tal, con­sumer and work­place pro­tec­tion rules, and that roll­back con­tin­ues to­day.

Still, for­mer Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan. said, the class never re­ally stuck to­gether — and its agenda in many ways never took hold.

Over time, bud­get deals were struck, boost­ing spend­ing back to al­most what it was be­fore the re­volt.

In­deed, com­bined with the 2017 tax cuts, the GOP-led Congress is on track to push an­nual deficits near $1 tril­lion next year, as high as dur­ing the early years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion when gov­ern­ment stim­u­lus was em­ployed against the Great Re­ces­sion.

“The es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton was happy to have our votes, but not to fol­low our agenda,” said Huel­skamp, who lost a pri­mary elec­tion in 2016 to a po­lit­i­cal new­comer and now runs the con­ser­va­tive Heart­land In­sti­tute. It was “just a clear mis­un­der­stand­ing of what the peo­ple wanted.”

‘ZERO FOL­LOW THROUGH’

Maya MacGuineas, pres­i­dent at the Com­mit­tee for a Re­spon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get, said Repub­li­cans talked a good game by promis­ing to bal­ance the bud­get, but with con­trol of Congress — and now the White House — they failed to tackle the tough tax-and-spend­ing chal­lenges needed to get there.

“That’s a whole lot of talk and zero fol­low through,” she said.

Frus­tra­tions within the ranks grew, and the new class splin­tered. Not all of them had been fa­vorites of their lo­cal tea-party groups. Some joined other con­ser­va­tives to form the House Free­dom Cau­cus, which nudged then House Speaker John Boehner into early re­tire­ment in 2015.

For­mer Florida Rep. Allen West — among the more prom­i­nent class mem­bers who lost re-elec­tion and is now a Fox News con­trib­u­tor liv­ing in Texas — said the chal­lenge for House Repub­li­cans head­ing into the fall elec­tion is, “Who are they? What do they stand for?”

House Repub­li­cans are wrestling with a midterm mes­sage at a piv­otal mo­ment for a party that Boehner says no longer ex­ists.

“There is no Repub­li­can Party. There’s Trump’s party,” Boehner said at a re­cent pol­icy con­fer­ence in Michi­gan.

Boehner’s suc­ces­sor as speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also is step­ping aside. He was a con­ser­va­tive up-and-comer long be­fore the tea party and will re­tire af­ter this term.

In fact, there are an un­usu­ally high num­ber of House Repub­li­cans re­tir­ing this year, in­clud­ing nearly a dozen from the tea-party class. Sev­eral are run­ning to be gov­er­nors or sen­a­tors, though some have al­ready lost in pri­maries. Oth­ers re­signed amid ethics scan­dals, while still oth­ers are sim­ply mov­ing on.

‘There is no Repub­li­can Party. There’s Trump’s party.’

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