It is about time.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally told Tea Party extremists to jump in a lake. He was incensed by reflexive criticism from outside pressure groups that bitterly opposed a new budget deal negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) and Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash). The Ohio Republican realized that these implacable “conservatives” had their own agenda that did not include what was best for the American people. So radical was their position, that they would risk another government shutdown, which would be a calamity for the Republican Party.
After years of being led by the nose, humiliated, and pushed around, Boehner finally stood up to the bully. In two news conferences last week, he lashed out at radical Tea Party ideologues that relentlessly pushed Republican leaders into supporting unwinnable political battles:
“They are not fighting for conservative principles. They are not fighting for conservative policy. They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous….I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be. And frankly, I just think they’ve lost all credibility.”
These are fighting words from a traditionally tepid leader who has been gun shy in taking on the radical fringe of his party. The question is: Was this a one-time rebuke in a pique of anger, or the beginning of a GOP realignment with mainstream America?
In my view, the Republican brain trust should abandon its reliance on social conservatives and Tea Party activists. They haven’t already done so out of fear that it would be political suicide that would cost them their base. However, by dumping these extremists, the GOP would almost immediately gain new credibility with Independent voters. They would also put conservative Democrats into play who lean right, but won’t vote for GOP candidates because of their retrograde views on social issues.
Sure, wooing a new base would cost the GOP in the Deep South. However, the erosion of support would not be as dramatic as the Tea Party would have mainstream Republicans believe, because the only alternative would be voting for Democrats. It is possible that a third political party could emerge, but it would be regional, and only carry weight in the Bible Belt.
This scenario would open up a world of opportunity. The GOP would once again be competitive in places where they used to be victorious. No doubt they would trade Alabama, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, for big states such as California, New York, and the New England region.
Dumping the Tea, as well as the Religious Right, would also increase the Republican odds of winning the presidency. In the last couple of election cycles, the GOP primaries attracted two types of presidential candidates: Those who are crazy (Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann) and those who abandoned their principles and pretended to be insane in order to win (John McCain and “severe conservative” Mitt Romney). The influence of radical elements in the primaries produced flawed candidates who appeared plastic and insincere. A worst-case scenario was the drafting of the unqualified Sarah Palin for Vice President, which badly damaged McCain’s credibility.
If Boehner buckles there is no future for the GOP. The current base demands anti-intellectual positions on immigration, science, evolution, climate change, and LGBT rights. Polls show the great majority of today’s youth are repulsed by the Republican Party’s stands on these issues. Even Big Business is thinking twice about its alliance with a party willing to shut down the government and default on the nation’s credit obligations, over an unwinnable tantrum about the Affordable Care Act.
The Tea Party and social conservatives have proven that they can destroy, but have demonstrated no desire, nor ability, to build or govern. They are chronic naysayers who offer nothing constructive, and represent little more than a sour mood swing disguised as a political philosophy. The Tea Party, in particular, is a dead end represented by melancholy lawmakers who pander to a quarrelsome base consumed with nihilism. They are equally devoid of ideas and empathy. The result is a sadistic platform that is anathema to the sunny conservatism exemplified by Ronald Reagan.
The GOP elite could suffer Tea Party contrarians if it brought victory. However, these congenitally angry misfits have shown chronic disloyalty to the Republican Party. By running their own candidates in primaries, they have distorted public policy, degraded America’s standing, and are a larger threat to the jobs of GOP lawmakers than Democrats.
John Boehner and the Republican establishment have been fishing in this piranha stream for too long. It’s time to cut bait and find a new fishing hole, before these beasts take the bait and eat the entire boat.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”