Will the Tea Party be a Casualty in the Looming Budget Battles?

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The finger of Speaker of the House John Boehner is hovering over the power button of the federal government. Despite his posturing, those in the know report that he does not want to push it.

Whether or not Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republican congressional leadership will actually allow the gears of government to spin down, there will be repercussions for the GOP, particularly for those lawmakers who sailed up the Potomac under Tea Party steam.

In the beginning it was the unleashed frustration with billion-dollar business bailouts, massive healthcare overhauls, and incalculable TARP handouts that propelled the Tea Party into prominence and that momentum was quickly converted into electoral power.

This power play will test the resolve and the mettle of Tea Party-backed legislators. As the pressure increases and the battle intensifies, all these newly elected freedom fighters will now show if Mount Shutdown is the hill they want to die on.

Given the political implications of the result of this game of financial chicken, no matter who blinks first, the Republican party will lose because the bloc of Tea Partiers not willing to sign off on the compromise (and there will eventually be a compromise) will be branded as “right-wingers” or “obstructionists” and they will draw away voters from the Republican Party.

Everyone who pulled a lever for a candidate based on that candidate’s promise to restore constitutional balance and reduce the size of government will have two choices in 2012, based on how that candidate voted on the government shutdown.

First, if the candidate stood firm and supported the shutdown, he will likely enjoy the continued support of voters. And, given that congressman’s opposition to his party’s leadership (let’s face it, the leadership of both parties have everything to lose by refusing to reach a settlement on the shutdown dilemma), he will further weaken that party’s power.

On the other hand, if that freshman legislator fell in line behind the cadre of Republican brass, then he will eviscerate the body of backers that sent him to do precisely the opposite of what he did. Seeing as how most of the Tea Party-promoted representatives caucus with the Republicans, their one and done congressional career will drain the GOP of its freshest blood.

The notion that Tea Party lawmakers are independent isn’t borne out by the figures. As one source explained it:

Although some Tea Party leaders have tried to stress the movement’s independence from the Republican Party, supporters of the Tea Party movement overwhelmingly identified with the Republican Party and reported voting for Republican candidates. Eighty percent of Tea Party supporters were Republican identifiers or independents who leaned toward the Republican Party and 54 percent were strong Republican identifiers. And Tea Party supporters definitely were not political newcomers – 93 percent reported voting in the 2008 presidential election and 96 percent of these Tea Party voters cast their ballots for John McCain. In the face of those numbers, there is yet one variable in the equation that hasn’t been defined: How will all this commotion and realignment add up for the Tea Party and affect their status as a relevant force in the future of American politics? Will Americans, eager for genuine change and burned by the betrayal of men and women who caved into their base cravings for power, abandon not only them but the Tea Party, as well?

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