JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 14, 2011
Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen argue that the Tea Party redefined the purpose of the GOP as opposition to spending:
The Republican Party is undergoing a messy but unmistakable 20-month transformation from fanatically anti-Obama to fanatically anti-spending, providing top party officials a new and intriguing playbook for recapturing the White House in 2012.
To understand the current evolution, flash back to late spring of 2009. The GOP was disoriented and adrift, its leadership void filled by the bombastic voices of Palin, Beck and Rush Limbaugh. There was no common conservative cause, beyond fear and loathing of Obama. No wonder swing voters were so down on them.
But the tea party, treated at first by the media as exotics, forced Republicans to focus almost exclusively on the size of government. By the time the 2010 elections rolled around, tea party activists and most independent voters were completely aligned on the need to cut, cut, cut.
Midterm election results showed that this approach offers the GOP its best – and maybe only – hope of keeping the interests of independents and tea party activists aligned enough to beat Obama.
The new litmus tests for GOP presidential hopefuls are support for repealing “Obamacare” and taking a cleaver to government spending. If a presidential candidate could harness the smaller-government conservatism, temper it enough to avoid a blatant overreach and articulate a vision for a prosperous future for the country, it’s not hard to imagine swing voters finding such a person appealing.
There's a superficial appeal to this story. But the evidence that Tea Party activists want to cut spending -- at least actual spending programs -- is sparse. Polls show that Tea Party supports overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The main thrust of Tea Party opinion is not the belief that Obama has spent too much money, but the belief that Obama has spent too much money on people unlike them:
More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public.
They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.
Here's another cut, showing the Tea Party's greater comfort with inequality of opportunity and stronger belief that the government devotes too many resources to minorities:
It's a revolt against the composition of government much more than the level.
Now, it's true that Republicans aren't exactly translating this blueprint into action, but they're not exactly flouting it, either. There is always a generalized antipathy toward spending amongst Republican and swing voters, but it disappears when the subject turns to actual government programs. Usually Republicans decide to just cut taxes for the rich instead. Here's is the one part of the article proposing a defined policy change:
Even Ralph Reed, the Republican operative most tapped in to evangelicals, reflected the new GOP mindset when he gave this surprising wish list for the next presidential race: “In a perfect world, I’d like to hear the Republican nominee run on a platform that takes the capital gains tax to zero over five years.” Reed, who summoned several of the presidential candidates to Iowa for his Faith & Freedom Coalition this week, made it clear that Christian conservatives will still need to be catered to, but added that his side will understand the nominee’s need to focus on swing voters.
So an article putatively about the GOP redefining itself as an anti-spending party has one actual programmatic detail, and it's: a zeroing out of the capital gains tax. In the name of appealing to swing voters -- who, in fact, oppose tax cuts for the rich. Meet the new boss...