Red is code wofd for black.
-----Original Message----- From: lbo-talk-bounces at lbo-talk.org [mailto:lbo-talk-bounces at lbo-talk.org] On Behalf Of Michael Pollak Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 7:11 PM To: lbo-talk at lbo-talk.org Subject: [lbo-talk] Skocpol on the Tea Party elite/grassroots divide
Campaign Stops - Strong Opinions on the 2012 Election
December 26, 2011, 9:00 pm
Whose Tea Party Is It?
By THEDA SKOCPOL and VANESSA WILLIAMSON
Newt Gingrich's brief turn as presidential front-runner was only the
latest paroxysm of a tumultuous Republican primary season. What's going
on? Tensions within the Tea Party help explain the volatility of the
Republican primary campaign, as candidates seek to appeal to competing
elements of the Tea Party with varying success.
For our new book, "The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican
Conservatism," we interviewed Tea Party activists across the country
over a sixteen-month period and found that the movement is not the
monolith it is sometimes portrayed as. The conservative political
upsurge has grassroots and elite components with divergent interests
and goals. Mitt Romney, no favorite of the Tea Party grassroots, is
currently pitching his candidacy to Tea Party elites, while Newt
Gingrich and other contenders are vying for the rank-and-file Tea Party
We learned about grassroots Tea Party groups by attending their
meetings, interviewing active members and reading hundreds of their
websites and message boards. In early 2011, these Tea Partiers had no
consistent favorite for the Republican nominee, supporting everyone
from Ron Paul to Mike Huckabee to Donald Trump, but they did have one
goal in mind for 2012: beating Barack Obama. As one Tea Party member we
met in Virginia put it, "we have to get Obama out. Obama and the
Communists he's surrounded himself with."
Craig Ruttle/Associated PressCallista Gingrich, left, wife of Newt
Gingrich, right, both at a Tea Party rally on Staten Island on Dec. 3.
In recent weeks, Gingrich has reached out to these grassroots Tea Party
voters, older white middle-class conservatives who remember him from
his glory days as an insurgent Democrat slayer. Gingrich's aggressive
style and blistering critiques of the Democrats resonate with Tea Party
voters. Gingrich has accused Democrats of socialist tendencies for
decades; as early as 1984, he claimed that a Democratic member of the
House of Representatives was distributing "communist propaganda."
But Gingrich has also tapped into what we identified as Tea Partiers'
most fundamental concern: their belief that hardworking American
taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for undeserving
freeloaders, particularly immigrants, the poor and the young. Young
people "just feel like they are entitled," one member of the
Massachusetts Tea Party told us. A Virginia interviewee said that
today's youth "have lost the value of work."
These views were occasionally tinged with ethnic stereotypes about
immigrants "stealing" from tax-funded programs, or minorities with a
"plantation mentality." When Gingrich talks about "inner-city" children
having "no habits of working," he is appealing to a widely held
sentiment among the Tea Party faithful.
What's more, Gingrich's comparatively humane stance on immigration
reform -- offering immigrants a path to legal status with the approval
of local community members -- is more palatable to Tea Party members
than one might expect. First, it reduces federal authority over a key
Tea Party issue, a policy that appeals to the "states' rights"
conservatives who fill the seats at Tea Party meetings. Crucially,
Gingrich is not offering, as Rick Perry did, taxpayer-funded benefits
to unauthorized immigrants, a policy described by one Tea Party
activist we spoke to as money wasted on "moochers."
Immigration was always a central, and sometimes the central, concern
expressed by Tea Party activists, usually as a symbol of a broader
national decline. Asked why she was a member of the movement, a woman
from Virginia asked rhetorically, "what is going on in this country?
What is going on with immigration?" A Tea Party leader in Massachusetts
expressed her desire to stand on the border "with a gun" while an
activist in Arizona jokingly referred to an immigration plan in the
form of a "12 million passenger bus" to send unauthorized immigrants
out of the United States.
In a survey of Tea Party members in Massachusetts we conducted,
immigration was second only to deficits on the list of issues the party
should address. Another man, after we interviewed him in the afternoon,
took us aside at a meeting that evening to say specifically that he
wished he had said more about immigration because that was really his
Tea Party activists are not uniformly opposed to government social
programs, however. Our interviewees were very anxious that Social
Security and Medicare be maintained. "I've been working since I was 16
years old, and I do feel like I should someday reap the benefit. I'm
not looking for a handout. I'm looking for a pay out of what I paid
into," one Tea Party member explained. Their support for these programs
was not just self-interested; several Tea Partiers said they would take
a benefit cut if the savings stayed in the Social Security fund. One
woman, a regular attendee of her local Tea Party, offered solutions
that seemed totally out of keeping with the stereotypes of Tea Party
members as knee-jerk tax cutters. After suggesting that any benefit
cuts be aimed at those in the "upper income brackets," she went so far
as to say that she "would not mind a tax increase to try to get the
country right again."
Given the Tea Partiers' abiding support for two key pillars of the
American social safety net, it is no surprise that Gingrich's plan for
a Social Security overhaul is aimed only at young workers, not the
retirees filling the rows at Tea Party meetings. But Mitt Romney has
taken a different path, expressing his support for the Ryan budget plan
that features huge tax cuts for the very wealthy paid for with
relatively near-term Medicare cuts.
Many observers have suggested that Romney's support for the unpopular
Ryan budget was a misstep. But considered from another perspective,
Romney is making a strategic move to aim for a different part of the
Tea Party, the free-market elites and funders.
Jim Cole/Associated PressMitt Romney at a Tea Party Express rally in
Concord, N.H., on Sept. 4.
Long-standing elite advocacy organizations that rallied around the Tea
Party label in 2009 and 2010, like FreedomWorks and Americans for
Prosperity, were crucial to the Tea Party phenomenon, providing funding
for national rallies and conservative candidates, and focusing
attention on well-practiced spokespeople to represent the Tea Party in
the media and in Washington. But the national advocates have only
tenuous ties to the grassroots Tea Party groups and are in no way
accountable to the Tea Party at the local level. Their policy agenda is
different as well. FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have
sought major reforms of Social Security and Medicare for years -- long
before the Tea-Party label gained currency.
Cutting these programs is unlikely to appeal to the grassroots Tea
Party, but local Tea Party members are only marginally aware of the
national advocacy occurring in their name. Asked about national groups,
local activists tended to shake their heads in confusion. In a typical
complaint, one leader of a local Arizona Tea Party group told us,
"sometimes when you sign up for a site, it puts out tentacles," sharing
information so that visitors receive a bewildering array of emails from
Tea Partiers also receive their information primarily, or in some cases
exclusively, from Fox News and talk radio, outlets that are unlikely to
turn a critical eye on conservative advocacy organizations. This lack
of connection between grassroots and elite Tea Party-ism may allow
Romney to placate the wealthy opponents of Social Security and Medicare
without irking the Tea Party base.
For both Romney and Gingrich, appealing to the Tea Party is a bit of a
stretch. Both men have been around too long not to have taken positions
too moderate for the new, extreme-right, tea-infused Republican Party.
In particular, there is little Romney can do to make Tea Party
activists enthusiastic about him during the primary season. Though his
claims to a businessman's expertise should appeal to the many small
business owners in the Tea Party, no one we interviewed had good things
to say about anything but his potential electability.
But Republican primary voters, including those in the Tea Party, want
to win the 2012 general election. As one Tea Partier told us, Romney is
"not quite conservative enough - but we have to get Obama out." They
will overlook past heresies, even "RomneyCare," in a candidate they
believe can win the general election.
As long as the big Tea Party funders back Romney's candidacy or stay on
the sidelines, Romney has a good chance of riding out other candidates'
surges in popularity and using his vast organizational and financial
advantages to beat out his opponents for the Republican nomination. At
that point, the grassroots Tea Party members will have little
influence; instead, momentum will shift even further towards the elite
policy advocates. And these well-funded groups, which benefited from
the Tea Party's momentum in the first years of the Obama
administration, will continue to seek their own policy goals, including
those at odds with the positions of local Tea Partiers.
Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard
University, and Vanessa Williamson, a graduate student in government
and social policy at Harvard, are the authors of the new book "The Tea
Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism."
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