Will A Government Shutdown Tame the Tea Party?

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While he agrees with me that a government shutdown looks inevitable, Noam Scheiber argues that this will be “almost certainly a good thing”:

Yes, it can slow the economy and wreak temporary havoc on people who rely on government services. But these consequences are nothing alongside the fallout from defaulting on our debt, which will happen if we don’t raise the debt ceiling by mid-October. That’s why Boehner’s inability to persuade conservatives to postpone their Obamacare demands until the debt-ceiling fight is in fact a hugely welcome development. It gives everyone a chance to sober up before we take on the substantially higher-stakes proposition of avoiding a debt default. In fact, if Boehner and the White House had both been a bit more pro-shutdown back in 2011, when this whole B-movie horror flick started, that year’s debt ceiling fight and the sequester may never have happened, and we might not be in the mess we’re in today. A little bit of shutdown, I’d wager, goes a long way.

So to put Scheiber’s argument in different, cruder terms: the Tea Party wing of the GOP simply must have a government-paralyzing tantrum, and it’s better they have it over funding the government than over raising the debt ceiling. Once they blow off their steam, shut down the government, and find a public furious over further Washington dysfunction and inclined to blame it on the GOP, these Tea Party types will be chastised enough that the folks who now pass for the adults in the Republican leadership will be able to resume control. Then everyone shakes it off and gets back to the work of governing.

It doesn’t sound nice, exactly, but it does sound preferable to the all-out anarchy of a government shutdown immediately followed by a debt default. But what I don’t understand is why we believe these Tea Party folks will be more susceptible to reason after a shutdown than they are now? We seem to be putting a lot of faith behind the power of public opinion — yet at the same time it’s well understood that many Republicans only fear a primary challenge from their right, and that top-line public opinion doesn’t sway them.

So what gives? Does Scheiber believe that the public response to a shutdown will be so overwhelmingly negative, and so overwhelmingly directed towards the GOP, that it’ll shift the basic dynamic of the past 3 years of American government? I’d certainly be pleased if that were to occur, but it seems far from certain.

 

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100 thoughts on “Will A Government Shutdown Tame the Tea Party?

  1. I think the public largely blamed the GOP for the 1996 government shutdown but I will note that it took them 10 years to lose control of the House.

    So I agree with you. The Tea Party believe what they believe and are probably not going to moderate anytime in the near future. This is what Tod talks about expertly in his essays on sailing away to irrelevance.

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    • I think the public largely blamed the GOP for the 1996 government shutdown but I will note that it took them 10 years to lose control of the House.

      The Gingrich Revolution was never the same after that, though. The GOP lost all leverage it had with Clinton, who came out of it stronger than ever. Gingrich was bumped out of leadership a few years later. Not because of the shutdown, but that reversed his ascent and started the descent.

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      • The Gingrich Republicans were basically rational individual political actors of the kind we’re accustomed to seeing at the top of major parties, though. They got to Washington, got their committee assignments, and wanted, yes, reform, but also just retain power and govern, etc. So they were sensitive to things like having leverage reduced. It remains to be seen what incentives the Tea Party will respond to after a scenario where their tactics lead the party (the GOP) to some sort of ignominious breakdown that it gets blamed for. They won’ see those events the same way party leadership will. It was Gingrich himself and his leadership that a) led the party into the shutdown, and b) were chastened y the result. Here, it’s a faction that is simply not controlled (or even influenced, except perhaps negatively?) by the leadership, either in action or opinion. Their reactions to events are basically unpredictable.

        The GOP leadership will, of course, be humiliated and marginalized, but they basically already are.

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      • The Gingrich Republicans were basically rational individual political actors of the kind we’re accustomed to seeing at the top of major parties,

        That wasn’t the perception at the time, as I remember it. They were the people that took an unprecedented shellacking in the midterm elections… and then preceded to impeach a president with an approval rating above 60%.

        I agree that there are differences, particularly that the movement in question is not concentrated at the top. That might make a difference. Or, it might be the case that the damage is such that congresscritters from potentially vulnerable districts look around and realize that at this point they have more to fear from the Democratic nominee than they do of bring primaried. And the Tea Party will, like Gingrich, not go away… but the rest of the party might reconsider letting them have the influence that they’ve had.

        Or not. I’m not making firm predictions here.

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      • Their basic political aims are fundamentally different. Gingrich was simply at the head of a national Republican surge whose basic thrust was to put conservative Republicans in charge of Congress. They had some ambitious aims and a spiffy message framework, but they were really just an establishment party seeking power. They managed to be fairly organized from the top down and didn’t have major breakaway factions until it all started to crack up under Hastert and Delay.

        The Tea Party is different in aim and structure. Their basic aim is, to coin a tiresome phrase, to disrupt the usual course of business (as bent out of shape as that’s become over time). They’re a fringe group that has grass-roots support that makes them substantially independent from the party leadership, and thus largely not controllable by it. This is shown week by week as we see Boehner’s endless and fruitless efforts to get them to play ball on the most basic of majority party goernance responsibilities. These are the kinds of problems that Gingrich, who was simply a (sometime) hardliner who’d risen to the top ranks of a Congressional party apparatus, never faced (unless I’m mistaken – I’m sure there were pressures of a similar kind, that’s the basic job of a House Speaker, but it was nothing like what Boehner now faces AFAIK). And the Tea Party, you’re right, is not going away, unless the GOP acts to really cut it off in a way that would bring it major pain in the short term and unknown effects in the medium term. This is unlike Gingrich, who pretty much did go away after 1998 or so, though the party leadership he headed went on as a thoroughly conventional institutional Congressional majority party for another few cycles.

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      • Like party leadership, though, the Tea Party derives its power from the consent of the congressional membership. With Gingrich, it was formal. Here, it’s informal. The leadership of the TP is derived from other congressional members feel they have more to fear from the Tea Party and primaries than from the general election.

        That only works if the Tea Party doesn’t lead them over an cliff. If the Tea Party is so destructive that they stand to lose their jobs, they’ll stop following that lead and start following Boehner’s. These are self-interested politicians.

        Now, I don’t know if this is the particular thing that will toss them over a cliff. If it does, though, I think it’ll at least be a significant step on the road to consequences. The 2014 election being an indicator. If they lose the House then, they’ll be in the minority which sucks big-time in the House. if they don’t, but come really close, then you have the congresscritters who barely survived asking themselves whether following the TP actually is in their interest.

        (On the senate side, being in the minority doesn’t suck nearly as much. However, if you’re in the senate, the likelihood that you are in what can be considered a “safe district” is much lower.)

        I’m not saying this definitively, but these are all factors that point away from an acceptance of losing (in the aggregate) indefinitely, which it appears the TP strategy seems likely to do as long as it is employed.

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      • No, it’s less fluid than that. For the most part these identities are not determined by arguments among Members in Washington. Tea Partiers are Tea Partiers because they have run in primaries, won, and won election. They’re what they are because that’s what their districts chose, and they feel completely secure in acting out that identity as long as they retain their offices. The TP’s power in Congress derives simply from its ability to deny Leadership a House majority made of Republican votes for basic machinery-of-government measures that have to pass in order for the government not to stop functioning, combined with the fact that, unlike other such factions (obviously any of which in the GOP of similar size has that power), they won’t engage in typical horse-trading behavior in exchange for those votes. Their sole purpose in Congress is to hold to their ideological guns and maximalist demands when confronted with exactly those “necessary” votes (which to them are direct manifestations of what they’re there to change – i.e. longstanding finace and spending practices).

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      • Michael, what you say may be true as to the Tea Party itself, and the existence of the Tea Party. But I don’t think it’s as true for the Tea Party’s control on the rest of congress. That is what I think to be less than invulnerable. There are not enough Tea Partiers to deny Boehner the votes. It requires Tea Partiers plus those members that fear their right flank.

        So if we’re arguing that the members of the Tea Party itself, those who owe their seat to the Tea Party, ran on the platform, and so on… I’m not sure whether I agree or not but I am not sure it matters. They don’t need to moderate for this to be very significant. They just need to no longer scare everybody else.

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      • To make sure I understand your position (we may be talking past one another). Let’s say that the GOP succeeds in a shutdown. Let’s say everyone blames the GOP. In 2014, they lose 12 seats, giving them the slimmest of slim majorities.

        What do you think is the likelihood that the remaining members of congress will look at this and think “I still need to pledge my allegiance to the Tea Party”? Or maybe I should ask what percentage of Republican congressman would look at that and think that they don’t need to change course? All of them? Almost all of them? Most of them? Half of them?

        (To put my cards on the table, my answer is north of “half” and well to the south of “almost all of them.”… but with a slim majority, it doesn’t actually take that many.)

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      • The problem, Will, is if the GOP loses twelve seats, it’s extremely likely that the 12 seats they lose are currently represented by Boehner-friendly representatives and in all reality, the Tea Party will be even stronger within the Republican caucus due to the fact that 99% of the Tea Partiers will win reelection for the same reason 99% of members of the Congressional Black Caucus win reelection.

        So, in the mind of most of the Tea Partiers, they haven’t suffered any, it was only those moderate RINO’s who lost and the GOP could’ve held those seats if only a real conservative had won a primary.

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      • Jesse, even if the Tea Party is stronger numerically, I think that is likely to be counterbalanced by the other side becoming less passive. And possibly more numerous if some people who vote with the TP now decide that their district isn’t as safe as they thought it was, or alternately they are more vain than ideological and want to be in the majority so that they can keep their chairmanships. (Seriously, the difference between majority and minority status in the House is huge in comparison to the senate. There are few consolations.)

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      • but the rest of the party might reconsider letting them have the influence that they’ve had.

        But how does “the party” make that effective? What’s the mechanism for “the party” to behave as a unified actor and deprivevthem of influence?

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      • The thing is, every time an establishment Republican, even a fairly conservative one, says anything even quasi-critical about the Tea Party and their strategy, let alone their policy positions, a wurlitzer of hard-right websites like Red State, Hot Air, and the like have an article or link with all the right slurs (RINO, big government Republican, etc.) and three days later, that same Republican is making an apology, with few exceptions.

        That doesn’t happen on the other side. So, it’s a feedback loop that tells people in the middle between the Tea Party and Boehner camps to sit down and shut up and try to ride this out until one side wins.

        I agree, they want chairmanships and important committee memberships, but it’s hard to show up to that committee meeting when you lost your primary six months ago. So, it’s a balancing act and I think until it collapses, it’s going to go further to the TP side simply because they have the passion and the numbers – remember, something like 60% of the current Republican caucus has taken office since Obama was elected.

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      • Like party leadership, though, the Tea Party derives its power from the consent of the congressional membership.

        I don’t think this is quite correct. The fact is that they are part of the congressional membership, and a sizable portion, necessary to the GOP’s majority. So their power comes largely from theirvown consent, and the rest of party’s need (however grudgingly admitted). The only effective way for the rest of the party to really withdraw consent, that I can see, is for it to form a working majority with Dems. This would surely lead to more primary challenges, at least some successful given the skewed nature of the primary electorate, and whether those more conservative nominees win or lose the proportion of Tea Partiers in the GOP caucus increases.

        Sure, the moderates will want to fight back. How? (Other than joining with statehouse Democrats to ungerrymander districts, which would not guarantee any GOP seats.)

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      • Jesse, the threats you refer to are only effective when the moderates see a primary as a bigger obstacle to re-election than the Tea Party. This thread assumes that the Tea Party has caused so much damage that the threat of a primary is secondary to the threat of a general election. This might not happen, but I think the chances are good that it will reach that point if the shutdown goes as badly as a lot of people think it will.

        James, what I see is analogous to the Gang of X’s we see in the senate. It’s not that they would team up with the Democrats. Rather, they’d negotiate with them. And then, yes, vote with them. They won’t do this as long as the threat of a primary is greater than the threat of a general election, but if the GOP’s standing falls enough, even congresscritters from districts that should be considered safe may find themselves vulnerable.

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      • Will, I think the basic disagreement we have is that you can see this happening in the next cycle or two, while I don’t see it happening until at least 2020, especially if a ‘moderate’ like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush loses the Presidential race.

        Plus, the really nasty gerrymanders won’t be undone at a minimum until 2020, so for a lot of median GOP congressman, the danger of a primary will be far greater than a general election for the time being.

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      • James, here is sort of what I mean:

        Imagine that the Tea Party said “Y’know wut? We’re gonna impeach Obama yes we are. And yer gonna vote for it, otherwise we’ll primary yer ass!”

        Do you think they could actually do it? I don’t think so, because there are enough congressmen who know that doing so without even a semblance of a cause would hurt their re-election prospects far, far more than anything the Tea Party can do. That shows that somewhere in the stratosphere – we can debate where, but somewhere are limits to the extent they are willing to avoid being primaried.

        What I’m saying here is that if there is a shutdown, and the GOP gets all the blame, and the results are clear, the Tea Party won’t have the leverage to threaten the rest of the party during the next round of budget talks (for instance). They won’t have the consent of the rest of the party to de facto run things.

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      • Jesse, massive blowback to a shut down government was an assumption to this thread. Which doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen. Just that if it did, this is what I think would start happening.

        I have no idea how 2014 is going to go. I don’t even have a guess. As it looks, 2016 will go to the Democrats. Sometime between now and 2020, Scalia or Kennedy will die. The court will have a liberal majority. Republicans will remember why elections will matter. With the consequences staring them in the face, I think a lot of them will drop the notion that it’s all about who is conservative enough.

        This is assuming that there isn’t between now and 2016 going to result in the same sort of about-face that changed in the GOP between 1997 and 2000. Which I think is a greater possibility than many others do, though I’d place percentages at below 50.

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      • Will, I have to push back a bit.

        Imagine that the Tea Party said “Y’know wut? We’re gonna impeach Obama yes we are. And yer gonna vote for it, otherwise we’ll primary yer ass!”

        But the TP’s power isn’t in initiating legislationnand forcing the rest of the party to go along, it’s in preventing the rest of the party from passing legislation the TP disapproves. It’s a veto-power, and in my business we call the TP a veto player, not a true policy leader. They can’t necessarily force the gate open for their preferred business but they can close the gate on business they dislike.

        What I’m saying here is that if there is a shutdown, and the GOP gets all the blame, and the results are clear, the Tea Party won’t have the leverage to threaten the rest of the party during the next round of budget talks (for instance). They won’t have the consent of the rest of the party to de facto run things.

        But that doesn’t address their veto power. And as long as no moderate votes for a policy like impeach Obama, which the TP can’t force them into doing because it’s justa veto player, not a policy leader, their real election threat remains the primary, not the general.

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      • James, what I am speculating is that just as they now lack impeachment power (or pro-active power) with the threat of primarying, they can tomorrow lack veto power. When and if it becomes clear that the bigger threat to their seat comes in the general election than from the primaries. Even though I recognize that they are two different things – two levels of power – I see them as points on a continuum. At the bottom (Level 1, say) is the ability to veto the party line on a presidential proposal. Above that is veto power on something necessary like the budget (Level 2). Above that is the ability to pass meaningless legislation that gets the base riled up (Level 3). Above that is the ability to pass meaningful legislation to be vetoed (Level 4). Up at the top is something suicidal like impeachment hearings for no reason (Level 5).

        Right now, the Tea Party is by my estimate at Level 3. It could go up, it could go down. It’s not very hard at all for me to imagine, after getting nailed on what should have been a gimme mid-term, they actually fall below Level 2. To the point that they cannot stop a contingent of the Republicans from negotiating with the Democrats with the threat of primaries. This depends somewhat on party and parliamentary rules, though (namely, what Greg mentions below). If the rules actually prohibit a budget from being considered without a majority of Republicans on board, that presents a problem. Then it becomes a question of how those rules can be changed.

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      • Greg, to be clear, I’m not arguing that the Tea Party doesn’t have significant influence. I’m just saying that the influence isn’t written in stone and handed down by god. It’s there because the rest of the party believes they need them, to an extent. If that changes, because the TP leads them over a cliff, the TP’s influence ebbs.

        If we have a shutdown, and the GOP gets blamed for it… it’ll only happen once (this decade, anyway), I’ll bet, regardless of how enthusiastic the TP is to do it every year. Even if the GOP retains a slim majority.

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      • Will,

        I think you’re mistaken in thinking that members of Congress are looking at the Tea Party and deciding whether to pledge allegiance. I think it’s more that you are one or you’re not, and that’s determined in your district, and in Washington what everyone does is figure out what what possible and preferable modi vivendi are given those associations, and if you’re not one of the Tribe, of course to adopt enough of the lingo to not stand out as so not with it that the Faithful in your district are provoked into a primary. If you’re one of the real sinners, though, a sudden conversion won’t save you

        Not that it doesn’t happen at all, but I don;t think it;s what dries outcomes.

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      • When and if it becomes clear that the bigger threat to their seat comes in the general election than from the primaries.

        But isn’t this where moderates are in a bind? To get legislation passed that satisfies moderates enough to avoid a general election defeat they have to work with Dems and expose themselves to a primary challenge. Even if they fear the general election defeat as more likely than a primary defeat, the primary challenge has to be dealt with on its own term and must be dealt with first.

        Sequencing atters. If I think there’s a 55% chance of losing in stage 1, and a 60% chance of losing in stage 2 if I do what’s necessary to win in stage 1, I still have to deal with stage 1 first, because if I do lose there then it’s 100% guaranteed I’m a loser when stage 2 comes around.

        The odds against in the primary will have to be considerably smaller than the odds against in the general before I can afford to worry more about the genetal than the primary before the primary. I’m pretty dubious that’s the case with any GOP House member from any moderately gerrymandered district.

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      • It’s there because the rest of the party believes they need them, to an extent.
        Belief or uncomfortable knowledge?

        If that changes, because the TP leads them over a cliff, the TP’s influence ebbs.
        But again, even if they do, it’s all about which GOP members win elections–succeeding in both primaries and generals. If that two-stage process produces a relative, not absolute, increase in Tea Partiers, then they are–perverse as it may be–strenthened. You’re assuming a moderate counter-attack, but that can only succeed if the moderates can first win the primaries, where the electorate skews more conservative. This is where you’re not giving us an explanation for how moderates manage to win.

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      • Michael, when I talk about pledging allegiance, I specifically mean voting with them. So you can’t be a real sinner and be pledging allegiance, in the terms I am using. Which may not be the most clear terms.

        But setting that aside, there are not enough solidly Republican districts to constitute a majority. The number of potentially competitive districts is typically understated, in my view, and somewhat dependent on circumstance. If we’re looking at elections where one party or the other is extremely unpopular, the degree of comfort a good PVI provides you will fall.

        But even if we accept the +5 PVI as immutable no matter how bad the Republicans screw up, and we ignore that there are Democratic congresscritters that actually hold these positively Republican seats, we’re still presently looking at over 40 Republican congressmen in vulnerable districts. That’s a minority, but enough to get a budget passed if all 40 of those congresspeople (or whatever number of them is left after 2014) have more to fear from Democrats than Republicans.

        But I think it’s wrong to think that the other 190 seats are destined to have more to fear from the right than the left. The lower the Republican tide is, the more seats become vulnerable in a general election. So something disastrous like a government shutdown blamed entirely on the Republicans, would have an effect on the Tea Party’s support within the party.

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      • James, the sequencing is such that they vote on the budget first, then face re-election later. So they don’t have to win the primary – or the general – first. They have to vote, then they have to win the primary, then they have to win the general. If the general election prospects are daunting enough, because the congressman to your right and to your left both lost last time around and the Tea Party looks poised to repeat the exact same thing that cost them their seats, then you absolutely run the risk of being primaried. Which isn’t even a sure thing, compared to the likelihood that you will face a general election opponent.

        The downsides to voting TP start to add up, in time, as it becomes less popular. It simply isn’t the case that no matter how unpopular that group becomes, your primary concern has to be the primaries. Especially given that in the greater scheme of things, the number of incumbents that have fallen in primaries is exceeded, I am pretty sure, by the number who have lost in the general election. And that’s before the GOP shut down the government, as we are envisioning here.

        One other factor that may render all of this moot. If the government gets shut down, it will come back up again at some point. At which point, the Tea Party politicians may lose their bravado anyway as they will have “caved.” This would happen if the shutdown was so bad that Big Money started to make big threats.

        Do you guys believe that we will have a government that is shut down until 2014? Other than making some sort of deal, what else is possible? I guess the answer to this is that they get more general cuts and then gear up for the fight next year. I dunno. It seems to me that at some point or another, you’re negotiating with the administration (a la raising taxes as previous happened).

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      • Just voting with them as allegiance, huh? Hoo boy. I don’t think I have the resources for an analysis that sensitive tonight. We can pick this up another time when I’ve got more energy to spare and some time to reflect more on what you’re saying so as to get a better overall idea of how you’re looking at the situation. It is a possibility we’re talking past each other, even though right now I’m seeing various particular inferences you’re drawing that I think are mistaken in specific ways. Have a good night.

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      • I get the sense that I am explaining myself poorly here*. Either that or I am missing something blindingly obvious in what you’re saying. But either way, we don’t seem closer than we were when we started.

        Sometimes people use “explaining myself poorly” as code for “Because if I were explaining myself well, you would obviously agree with my insightful point.” But that’s not the case here. I don’t feel like I am saying something particularly insightful but rather something obvious. So I fear something is getting lost in translation, or what seems obvious to me is actually missing something.

        Either way, I’m probably going to bow out of this one unless something strikes me in the interim. Peace out.

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      • Will, cheers. I agree. With some time to reflect and a somewhat more fluid medium of communication I think it’s quite likely you James and I would come to a clear understanding of the dynamics that we’d more or less agree upon.

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      • Great point Truman! It was such a “win” for Clinton that didn’t they recreate the scene metaphorically on “The West Wing”? I haven’t thought about this show in ages but after Obama suddenly coming out for bombing Syria, all I had been able to think about was Bartlett holding a chess piece saying “Is that the same thing?”
        That said, I am not sure how much public sentiment sways these politicians. They don’t answer to all of the Americans, they only answer to the small politically homogeneous group of voters back home in their tiny district.

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      • Will, at the risk of being the only one left arguing, let me try once more with an example.

        My district, Michigan’s 7th, is rated by FairVote as 48D/52R (before the latest redistributing, which changed us only at the margins, we were 49D/52R). Compare that to CA’s 12 (Nancy Pelosi), which is 83D/17R. By comparison MI’s 7th is competitive. In ’06 Ford-style Republican Joe Schwartz won the seat with 58% of the vote. In ’08 he lost the primary to religious right-wing challenger Tim Walberg (who beat Schwartz 53-47%), who then won the general election against the same candidate Schwartz had beaten, but with only 49.9% of the vote. Walberg narrowly list the seat in ’08 due to a Democrat riding Obama’s coattails, but regained the seat in ’10 and held it in ’12, with 50.1% and 55.4% of the vote.

        So even though the district has become 1 point more R, Walberg’s best general election performance is almost 3 point less than the moderate Schwartz’s, meaning at best he’s running over 3 percentage points off the moderate’s vote total. The right-winger can win the general emection without approaching the moderate’s numbers, but the moderate can’t win the primary against the right-winger. Overall advantage: right-winger.

        I don’t disagree that the next general election’s electorate may pose more of a threat than last year’s general election electorate. But that’s not sufficient–the next general election’s electorate has to pose more of a threat than next year’s primary electorate. The general electorate’s numbers will have to move a longer way to achieve that.

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      • : Safe seats are a haven for political weirdity. The number of safe seats varies inversely with open democracy and mandate. But someone in a safe seat can make a politically difficult choice. Such a safe seat holder can also afford to ignore the Party Line.

        But the roots are rotten. All these guys ‘n gals, from safe seats and perilous alike, are dependent upon campaign contributions. It’s not merely a matter of winning a primary any more. Those who pay the piper may call the tune. Lobbyists write the legislation. The big money never likes a Smart Person in office, one with a clue. They like Dumb People, whose anger clouds their judgment, jihaadi types in search of Death or Glory. Useful idiots.

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      • Blaise,
        I don’t disagree, but my analysis focuses on a seat that, by the numbers, isn’t remotely one of the safer seats out there. Safe seats are a haven for weirdness because they have a skewed electorate. Primaries, even in not-so-safe seats, may have a skewed electorate, too, so they also can be a haven for weirdness. At least the not-so-safeness of the seat can mitigate that weirdness to some extent (I’m represented by a religious right nutter, IMO, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the publicly expressed nuttiness of, say, a Steve King or a Louis Gohmert, allah be praised).

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      • Blaise,
        “The big money never likes a Smart Person in office, one with a clue. They like Dumb People, whose anger clouds their judgment, jihaadi types in search of Death or Glory. Useful idiots.”

        Thus demonstrating taht the big money is also full of idiots. If god says “it will be fine” these folks don’t wanna listen to the people pulling their strings.

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      • So stipulated, Dr. Aitch. Mostly, I was observing the Gohmert Effect lets the Crazy do the talking. Nut graf:

        But isn’t this where moderates are in a bind? To get legislation passed that satisfies moderates enough to avoid a general election defeat they have to work with Dems and expose themselves to a primary challenge. Even if they fear the general election defeat as more likely than a primary defeat, the primary challenge has to be dealt with on its own term and must be dealt with first.

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      • James,

        The general electorate’s numbers will have to move a longer way to achieve that.

        That’s what we’re talking about here, though. Or at least what I am. There is a shutdown and the GOP takes an enormous hit for it. If they don’t take a hit for it, then I don’t disagree.

        Also, see my other comment: The number of Republican congressmen in 2012 who lost a primary to a non-incumbent is less than a quarter of the number of Republican congressmen who lost in the general election to a Democrat.

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      • ,

        The number of Republican congressmen in 2012 who lost a primary to a non-incumbent is less than a quarter of the number of Republican congressmen who lost in the general election to a Democrat.

        But how do we interpret that fact? Is it a general rule that we can expect to hold true in ’14? Remember that the GOP gained 61 House seats in ’10. They lost 21 in ’08, so over the ’08-’10 elections their net gains were 40, of which they lost a net of 13 in ’12.

        Now these numbers obscure some messiness, because the net gains/losses are composed of some seats lost to the other party and some won from the other party, so they’re not just the same seats flipping back and forth, and also because the ’12 election was conducted after redistributing.

        But here’s what I suspect we may have seen in ’12–reversion to the mean and the least secure GOP seats, the ones they were luckiest to hold anyway, were lost. Are the next, new, set of “least safe seats” as unsafe, or did the Dems already skim the cream?

        Also, ’14 is a midterm election. It’s not an invariable rule, but it sure is the norm for the president’s party to lose seats in midterm elections. So whatever reasons the GOP has to fear the general electorate, they also have a historically based reason for optimism.

        Of course a really solid argument either way woukd require looking more closely at all the districts that changed hands.

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      • James, it’s not just that 17 Republican incumbents lost to Democrats in general elections, it’s that only four lost to primary challengers who weren’t also incumbents. Sure, most of those 17 were probably Democratic seats in 2009. But a lot of seats that were Democratic in 2009 are still in Republican hands. According to the National Journal’s estimates, there are still 40 Republican seats that are considered unsafe. And given the assumptions that this conversations include (that there is a shutdown, that the GOP catches hell for it), I think that estimate is actually conservative. But even if it isn’t, that’s a lot of potentially vulnerable Republicans. While the number of primary victims remains quite small.

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      • Will,
        Maybe so. What I like about you is you always provide a solid basis for your arguments. You beat he’ll out of 99.9% of the talking heads on those news channels I never watch.

        And elections aren’t one of my areas of specialty (not even close; I’ve never even taken a class on it), so I only count myself as an intelligent (not always informed!) citizen on these issues.

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  2. In a showdown between the Kochs and everyone else, everyone else has money and numbers on their side.
    Naturally, we’re only talking about the well-to-do “everyone else”…

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  3. Concurr with ND here on the control.

    But I dont think they’ll be sailing off into irrelevance any time soon. They’ve been essentially coopted by the Repubs in a lot of aspects (like actually thinking they can change the system). Something’s going to have to give because the current trends are unsustainable….

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  4. It sort of boggles my mind that the health of the GOP is measured by National office, and particularly, the presidency.

    First of all, at the state and local level, the GOP is thriving. And this is where most of the policy gets made that directly impacts people’s lives on a daily basis.

    Second, it seems like having Democrats in the white house and controlling at least one branch of Congress is a huge boon; it’s like how the US’s invading Iraq became a an Al Qaeda recruitment banner.

    Third, all the Tea Party broohaha doesn’t seem so much like serious politics as a distraction from the real policy making going on, mostly sold out to special interests who prefer we spend time arguing about entertainers like our lovely Michelle instead of responsibly digging into the rule-making processfor financial reform as it gets hogtied by banking interests or actually explaining what the ACA does.

    So I seriously think that the Tea Party Politician get’s his or her real role; distracting the masses from real events. And like we flock to sporting events to support our favorite team, we flock to the candidate who most entertains.

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    • They are thriving in some states but not others. They are certainly not thriving in New York or California. Nor do they seem to be doing that well in Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut (which possibly has the most liberal governor in the U.S. currently), Maryland, and others.

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      • I agree, there are a handful of states where the GOP is not thriving.

        But 30 states have GOP governors, and all but five of those 30, the GOP controls the legislature. (Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/02/04/the-republican-partys-big-state-level-advantage-in-one-chart/, and forgive me for linking wapo.)

        But if you get to the level below that, what you’ll see is a lot of Republicans running and winning at the local level, too. Often without much party affiliation; often because they’re business people and believe they can contribute to improving the local business climate be getting into politics.

        Now there’s nothing wrong with that; but the business climate/low taxes/and limiting regulation are often the driving goals, not good governance. And as these town councilors run for broader office, they’ve got to sign on to the party crazy to get party support.

        So I just think all this hype about the impending implosion of the GOP is just that — hype. I see no reason to think the party will continue to do anything but thrive, and the distractions provided by the national party actually contribute to its local growth right now.

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      • I don’t know, zic, I think the local level victories, while substantial, are also having some substantial blow back. The 2010 election gained state governor’s mansions aren’t likely to stay Republican in the next cycle, and as the actual impact of governing as complete batshit lunatic bone-cutting budgeting continues it’ll take their toll.

        That’s not to say state level parties are doomed, they have a lot more life than the national party. But they’re facing a set of demographic and other concerns that are going to come from overreach. The cycle though is probably about a decade behind the national party’s trends.

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      • Nob brings up a good point.

        New Hampshire went super Tea Party in 2010 but being New Hampshire the elective periods are short. The Tea Partiers were out by 2012 and the Democratic Party regained their majority.

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      • The 2010 election gained state governor’s mansions aren’t likely to stay Republican in the next cycle

        Michigan’s could be interesting. We got a moderate GOP governor whomI think has done a fairly good job. But he onlynwon because first in the primary two conservative candidates split the majority of the vote and then in the general election he had a nutsack Dem opponent that even my Dem friends had to hold their nose to vote for. And the GOP controlled legislature has overstepped it’s marginal mandate (at least that’s my take) reflecting badly (if unfairly) on him. So even though he’s a classic Midwest Ford style Republican, expect the Dems to take a real hard run at him (if they can find a decent candidate this time).

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      • Another example of this “overstretch” I think is Virginia. Terry McAuliffe is no one’s idea of a good gubernatorial candidate, but Ken Cuccinelli somehow manages to be ten shades worse. The GOP primary politics is going to eat him alive by putting him up as their nominee, while Bob McDonnell went from asset to anchor faster than you could mangle his name pronouncing it three times fast.

        National level races are still where this trendline is leading, though. The fact that Michelle Nunn and Allison Lundergran Grimes are considered even remotely competitive is a sign of which way the GOP’s political winds are blowing.

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  5. I am so not looking forward to a government shut down because my work directly depends on a functioning and working government. Its going to be bloody.

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  6. I think these forces have been present in the GOP for decades. They were largely silent from about WWII until 1964 but they have always been around and are now the loud and always present base.

    There are numerous history books about the rise of the far right as a constantly unappeasable/say no to compromise view and their perpetual hatred for the coasts (mainly the East Coast).

    Read:

    Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein

    Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson.

    Nixonland by Rick Perlstein

    The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hoffstadter.

    As far as I can tell, there has always been a large based, mainly midwestern and western. They have always disliked the former East Coast elites than ran the Republican Party they voted for, and now they are in control and have been for decades.

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  7. Eh, there may be a real political and electoral effect, but I think it takes a lot of optimism to assume a loss on the shutdown will shut up the Tea Partiers in the short run. Many of them are sincerely not interested in what happens electorally to their party, if electoral success depends on the party being moderate. A lot of these folks are true believers, political moralists rather than political strategists. They’re playing for different stakes than Boehner and his part of the Party, so you can’t accurately analyze them as though they share the same goals.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying I share Elias’s skepticism.

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    • Concurred, the Tea Party sincerely that they are fighting for the heart and soul of the Republic. This is a literal crusade to them and they aren’t going to stop till handed a definite electoral and poltiical defeat or until the achieve victory, which they seem to be willing to use every underhanded trick in the book to achieve. Its going to be fun.

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    • Just so. The Tea Partiers are absolutists on the shop floor of compromise. They won’t be shut up: the more anyone attempts to push them down, like Antaeus, the more powerful they become.

      This is especially cogent: the Tea Party wing of the GOP simply must have a government-paralyzing tantrum, and it’s better they have it over funding the government than over raising the debt ceiling.. Once the Tea Party has its tantrum, they’ll have shot their wad, expended their political capital on a trivial squabble where they might have gotten more by cooperating.

      Boehner has shown himself to be a bad manager, a weak leader, probably a decent enough man but completely out of his league as Speaker. When the Hurricane Sandy bill came before the House, Boehner attacked it. Chris Christie gave him a well-deserved cuff in the ear and Boehner sang a different tune thereafter.

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      • Eh, I can’t blame Boehner too much. It’s true he blew his very first vote as Speaker by not counting the Tea Partier’s votes right, but these are people who refuse to be led to the tune of the moderates/normal conservatives. Boehner’s got limited weapons to use against them (committe positions, support for pork barrell projects) and if he tries to use those weapons and wholly alienates them he’ll not be able to get their support for anything. The Speaker of the House is not a European-style list-proportional system party leader. He can cajole, but not command, and he’s got folks who are mot open to cajoling. It’s worse than herding cats–it’s herding rabid dogs.

        In another era he probably would be a perfectly competent if undistinguished Speaker.

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      • Yup. Boehner thought he was going to get a 2002-2006 era Republican caucus. In other words, a caucus where you would have to throw up a couple of gay marriage, flag burning, and repeal Obamacare bills to keep the base happy, but the real work would happen on K Street and at fancy dinners inside the Beltway.

        The only person more uncomfortable at a Tea Party rally than Obama probably would be John Boehner.

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      • Basically, because the GOP had in the past, always been able to sweep the base under the rug and get to the real business of giving rich people or corporations lots of money via tax cuts or government spending.

        I truly think, in the cocoon of DC, that Boehner, Rove, and the rest of the DC Establishment firmly believed they’d be able to use this conservative surge the same way they’d used prior conservative surges.

        But, unfortunately for them, large numbers of the new Congresspeople actually believed the BS they were selling and other establishment Republican’s had just seen their buddy of a decade get primaried, so all of the sudden they were talking like a Tea Partier as well.

        There’s no “proof,” but if you look at the actions Boehner has taken, it’s been slowly dissolving as he realizes what he has to work with.

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      • But, unfortunately for them, large numbers of the new Congresspeople actually believed the BS they were selling what the old guard was peddling as BS.

        I think there’s a certain undeterminable level of sincerity amongst TP members that cuts, cuts, cuts, is the correct solution to (their perception of) our (understood as their perception of “us”) problems.

        But other than that, I agree with ya.

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    • The Tea Party true-believers will not be discomoded at all by a government shutdown. Their beliefs are strong enough that mere reality won’t impact them.

      But what a shutdown would do is awaken lots of those who have suported them to just what the government that they have been happily deriding actually does for them. For the “government hands off my Medicare” crowd, it may be an abrupt awakening — and not a happy one. A lot of them may feel seriously ill done by when it comes to those who fed them a lot of delusions about what the government did and didn’t do.

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  8. One of the most interesting aspects of Before the Storm, so far is the cultural explorations into what created the Goldwater right. There used to be a whole series of “adventure novels” for boys by a guy named Clarence Budington Kelland. These novels featured stories of boys doing things like turning an abandoned saw mill into a profitable enterprise again. The whole prose is about how a stream/river is more than a place for fishing or swimming but about how they are great engines of capitalism and business.

    These novels were highly formidable in creating the views that lead to Goldwater’s supporters.

    I know about Horatio Alger but the Clarence Budington Kelland novels are new to me. Do they still get read? Is there a modern equivalent?

    I’d be curious to find out.

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    • People really misremember Horatio Alger. They think he was all about rags to riches but in most of his stories, it was really a boy using luck and pluck to work himself up into the middle class rather than the upper class.

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      • Point taken but the Mark Tidd novels that Perlstein mentions seem to be much further right-leaning and more propaganda than the Horatio Alger novels ever were. They seem to be very explicitly about how Capitalism and Business are the greatest adventures of them all.

        Rick Perlstein seems to think that they left a very strong impression on the midwesterners and westerners who formed the Goldwater right (which is the predecessor to the Tea Party.)

        I’m curious about this. Were these novels and stories more popular in the midwest and west? Did East Coasters always find them silly and corny? A large part of right-wing populism seems to be a rage at the sophistication of the East Coast elite.

        Are there still novels like the Mark Tidd series being produced or not? If yes, where? If no, when and why did they fade away?

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      • People on the coasts were probably just exposing their kids to more mainstream kid lit and entertainment like Dr. Seuss, the Hardy Boys, and Disney. Novels like the ones you mention really only thrive in subcultures that view themselves as “persecuted” just like how their is an Evangelical sub-culture. The Red Diaper babies had their own subculture and they were on the left.

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      • The author of the Mark Tidd series published in the Saturday Evening Post and Boys Adventure and some such. These are defunct now but used to be the biggest magazines in the US or among the highest circulating.

        He also wrote the stories that were turned into the classic Capra movie, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

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      • I looked him up on his wikipedia page, definitely mainstream popular. The Mark Tidd novels were written during the 1910s and 1920s so it seems weird that they would influence Goldwater supporters. A lot of them would have been not even born at the time of publication or too young to read them.

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      • Before the Storm states that the early financial bakers of Goldwater were born in the 1890s and were usually the sons of mid-size American factories and dynasties and usually outside of the east coast. They were people like the owners Lone Star Steel in Dallas or Kohler (the bathroom company) in Wisconsin. Fiercely anti-union (one person shut down his factory rather than meet with union officials), fiercely anti-New Deal, and also rabidly isolationist even after Pearl Harbor.

        So they would have been the right age and background to be highly impressionable by the Mark Tidd novels. Plus they had a dislike of the Easterners they met while at university and disliked needing to go to Wall Street instead of local banks for cash. Technological advancements were too expensive for local banks to finance.

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      • So a lot of what we are seeing it now has its origins with Mid-Western and Western Repbulicans, albeit still on the right of the GOP, not beign able to stand East Coast Republicans, whom they probably viewed as sell-outs.

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      • As far as I can tell, the Northeast has always been somewhat resented for being the old guard and the closest thing the United States had to the landed gentry. People who moved west to make their fortunes felt locked out of the established order of the Eastern seaboard and saw themselves as more self-made. Many of these men expanded the business empires founded by their dads or grandfathers.

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  9. The Tea Party folks don’t need be more susceptible to reason after a shutdown. They will be able to remain intransigent to the end. But it won’t matter.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe they have the votes to stop an increase to the debt limit without keeping the entire Republican caucus fundamentally unified. Moderate Republicans will peel off and vote with the Democrats – either when the Continuing Resolution comes up (because they fear the political backlash, even while their TP colleagues don’t) or when the debt limit increase vote is held (because their backers in the financial sector tell them they must and the TP folks have already had their protest vote).

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    • The problem is what the R’s call the Hastert rule which means they don’t’ bring anything to the floor for a vote unless they have a majority of R’s in the house for it. That makes it well nigh impossible to find a chunk of R’s to vote with D’s to pass a bill.

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      • They could always ignore the Hastert rule. The problem with this is that the more moderate Republicans are afraid of facing a primary challenge if they do this. The Democratic Party in the House will be in a position of enormous strength to get concessions if moderate Republicans resort to this. That means any budget will be more attuned to Democratic priorities.

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      • greg-

        I think the Hastert rule gives way before establishment Republicans spurn the requests of their Wall Street backers.

        While the fear of being primaried Lee notes will be compelling, money still talks.

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      • Lee & Scott,

        My supposition is that Boehner’s position, both electorally and in the House, is not secure enough to do this unless he actually does plan to retire in 2014 (which speculation says he will, but he says he won’t).

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      • I feel like Boehner’s probably going to take one more stab at a working majority from 2014-2016. The man looks deflated, but he’s also such an old consummate politician that I can’t see him giving up quite yet.

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      • Boehner’s tenuous position is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, James. Perhaps retirement will look all the more attractive when compared with being known as the first Speaker who allowed the country to default on it’s debts.

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      • Boehner’s already ignored the Hastert rule a couple of times. To me that says he’s willing to ignore it when it’s going to affect his post-political career.

        I don’t see him becoming a Fox News analyst. I see him doing a Michael Steele.

        I could be wrong, of course.

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      • In 2012, five incumbent Representatives lost their re-election bids to a non-incumbent and at least one of them was a Democrat. Meanwhile, nine seats switched from Republican to Democrat. I don’t understand why primary elections are supposed to be the biggest fear among Republicans. Among some, it sure is. But 40 Republican Reps are in districts that are not considered “safe” (I’d argue the definition of “safe” is actually too narrow and that number should be higher) and I see little reason to believe they have more to fear from a potential primary opponent than from an inevitable general election opponent.

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      • Boehner’s already ignored the Hastert rule a couple of times.

        Man, I wish my memory was better about this stuff, but isn’t the vote in ’10 on the budget compromise relevant here? If I’m remembering right, he brought the vote to the floor fully expecting the GOP to pass the compromise and appeared stunned when it was rejected by the TPers. Am I misremembering things?

        If that’s right, it’s not so much that he’s ignoring the Hastert Rule as that the GOP is right now alot like Dems – herding cats and all that.

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      • Okay, I have some real numbers from 2012. In 2012, five incumbents lost primaries to non-incumbents*. Four Republicans and one Democrat. In general elections, twenty-seven incumbents lost, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats**.

        * – Eight more lost primaries, but were running against other incumbents. Redistricting, not something anybody is likely to have to worry about for another few cycles.

        ** – Redistricting no doubt had a role in this as well, though as 2006, 2008, and 2010 have demonstrated, a lot of incumbents are vulnerable in any given general election.

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      • The thing is, most of the Democrat’s and Republican’s that lost were in, basically, swing districts. D+3 to R+3 districts, give or take. Now, those people probably do have to worry more about the general than the primary, even though a lot depends on the general election opponent, funding, and such.

        However, there aren’t a lot of those seats left due to self-packing and gerrymandering. The people who both comprise most of the GOP caucus _and_ have to worry about a primary challenge are those in R+5 and above seats, where there’s little chance of losing a general short of a ’06-style Democratic wave.

        Before recent times, these Congress people had to talk the talk, but then, they could go back to Washington and vote for the Farm Bill, Medicare Part D, tax cuts, and even vote for a few “liberal-ish” bills without nobody really knowing about it, as long as they mentioned being pro-life, co-sponsored the Federal Marriage Amendment, and so on.

        But, now, thanks to the Internet and such, the fringe of the party knows about all these terrible votes and go into actions. Thus, we get situaitons like previously relatively sane Republican’s sounding like the guy on the corner with a long beard talking about death panels, Benghazi, and so on.

        That’s the main issue. In short, the core of the party actually wants representatives that actually agrees with them, both in policy and temperament.

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      • Jesse, there are at least 40 Republicans in competitive districts (PVI of +5 or less). I’d argue more. And that’s after the 2012 losses. That’s not a majority of Republican House members, but that’s enough to get a budget through. It’s certainly more than the four Republicans that lost their seats in the House to non-incumbents, and more than lost their seats in primaries even if we count the incumbent vs incumbent races.

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  10. Will, I’m seeing comments in the sidebar stream addressed to me (I think), but not finding them in the thread. I’m on a bus so that may have something to do with it; I’ll try to get back to you later. For now I’ll just say that there are definitely gradations in the actual facts between your view and mine and it’s just a question of what’s mostly going on, so to some extent if not talking past each other, we may both be seeing things that are there and thinking they’re the essence of the situation when it’s some from column A and some from column B.

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  11. : You’re the PoliSci prof. Is there a comparison to be made, historically, to other Tea Party-esque movements such as the Know Nothings, the lumpen Jacksonian Democrats, various Nativist/Xenophobia types? Under what conditions do they arise?

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    • I’m sorry to say I’m not at all a historian of American political movements. It was never one of my areas of study. There are undoubtedly some amateur historians who participate here who could answer that much better than I could.

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      • Other such movements have been seen in history. They all seem to flame up, usually with some idiot firebrand in the pulpit. And as quickly as they flare up, they die away. They sow the seeds of their own destruction. They’re against lots of things. What they’re for is usually a complete mystery.

        The comparison isn’t very good, for a host of reasons, but somehow Cromwellian democracy seems to fit the bill.

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      • I kind of think the closest analogy to Tea Partyism right now is actually the Free Silver movement. Hearst’s involvement in pushing for it out of self interest is kind of similar to how the Koch’s are pushing the Tea Party agenda, as are the quasi-populist sentiments and economic insecurity of rural, southern voters leading to a lot of the momentum. And it’s rather an irony of history that this movement also has a fair strong share of goldbugs now.

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