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Robert Reich: Why John Boehner May Have More Leverage Over the Tea Partiers in Congess

November 9, 2012

Tea Partiers may be more amendable to compromise now than ever before.

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Image from Flickr via DonkeyHotey

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich.

“If there’s a mandate in yesterday’s results,” said House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, “it’s a mandate to find a way for us to work together.” Republicans, he said, were willing to accept “new revenue under the right conditions,” to get a bipartisan agreement over the budget.

We’ve heard this before. The Speaker came close to agreeing to an increase in tax revenues in his talks with the President in the summer of 2011, but relented when Tea Partiers in the House made a ruckus.

But Tea Partiers may be more amenable to an agreement now that the electorate has signaled it doesn’t especially like what the Tea Party has been up to.

Tuesday wasn’t exactly a repudiation of the Tea Party, and the public’s rejection of Tea Party extremism on social issues doesn’t automatically translate into rejection of its doctrinaire economics.

Consider Indiana, where the Tea Party had pushed out veteran GOP Senator Richard Lugar in favor of Richard (rape is “something God intended”) Mourdock. Mourdouk was soundly defeated Tuesday by Rep. Joe Donnelly.

In Missouri, the Tea Party was responsible for Todd (some rapes are “legitimate”) Akin winning the Republican Senate nomination—which gave Sen. Claire McCaskill a landslide victory.

And in Montana, Tea Party nominee Denny Rehberg was no match for Senator Jon Tester.

Of the sixty incumbent members of the House’s Tea Party Caucus, 47 were reelected, while 6 lost big, two ended up in races far too close for comfort, and one is still hanging by a thread (the rest either retired or sought higher office). Overall, those are bad odds for House incumbents.

As of Thursday morning, Tea Party icon Florida’s Rep. Allen West—who made a name for himself calling several of his Democratic colleagues communists—was still trailing his Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy by more than the 0.5 percent margin that would trigger an automatic recount. Nonetheless, West is charging “disturbing irregularities” in the balloting process, and his lawyers have asked that ballots and voting equipment be impounded in St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties in expectation of a recount.

Another Tea Party icon, Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann, beat challenger Jim Graves by just over 3,000 votes out of nearly 350,000 votes cast—even though she outspent Graves by more than 12-to-one. Not a good omen for Bachmann in 2014.

Tuesday wasn’t exactly a repudiation of the Tea Party, and the public’s rejection of Tea Party extremism on social issues doesn’t automatically translate into rejection of its doctrinaire economics. But the election may have been enough of a slap in the face to cause Tea Partiers to rethink their overall strategy of intransigence. And to give Boehner and whatever moderate voices are left in the GOP some leverage over the crazies in their midst.


By arrangement with Robert Reich.

Author Image

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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