Richard Reeves

The Tea Is Getting Weaker

LOS ANGELES -- Uh, oh! Some people are looking over the right shoulders of the Republicans who rode into the House of Representatives on the tea party wave of 2010. And they don't like what they're seeing.

The Club for Growth is fundamentally a conservative lobbying and research group pushing for lower taxes and reduced government spending, which positions itself well to the right of Republican elected officials and even to the right of tea party rhetoric. The club's basic goal is a flat tax to replace graduated income taxes or a national sales tax. The idea, pardon my liberalism, is to reduce taxation on business and on the rich.

It seems the club has decided that much of the tea party is reneging on its promises of reducing taxes and spending. Last Wednesday it issued a broadside targeting many of the 87 Republican freshmen who roared into the House of Representatives under the rhetorical umbrella of the tea party.

Mike Allen, in his blog, the morning wake-up call of Politico.com, reported the club's scorecard this way:

"FRIENDLY FIRE -- Club for Growth releases 'Just How Tea Party Are They?: How Freshman Republicans of the Class of 2010 Rate on Economic Freedom' -- 'While the rhetoric of the freshmen may be loud, the Club for Growth strives to hold lawmakers accountable by examining how they actually voted once they got to Congress. In many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called "Tea Party" freshmen simply didn't match their records.'

"-- Thirteen GOP freshman have scores under 50 percent.

"-- Another 36 have scores between 50 and 75 percent.

"-- Only three have perfect scores."

The three pure tea partiers were Justin Amash of Michigan, Raul Labrador of Idaho and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who all received scores of 100. Basically, they voted against everything.

More interesting are the 10 low-scorers, led by David McKinley of West Virginia, who voted the way the club wanted only 37 percent of the time.

Whatever McKinley said during his campaign, it doesn't take Machiavelli to figure out what he's doing now. He won in 2010, in the panhandle district that rises almost to Pittsburgh, with just 50.4 percent of the vote. So, words aside, he has voted and is going to run as if he were a moderate Democrat.

The same is true of more than two dozen other Republican freshmen.

The club rating for Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania was 42 percent. He won in 2010 with 55 percent of the vote in a district where Barack Obama won 56 percent. Bob Dold of Illinois also scored 42 percent, after winning with 51 percent of the vote. Jon Runyan of New Jersey was rated 45 percent by the Club for Growth, after winning exactly 50 percent of the vote in 2010.

So it goes. Congressmen run and govern to win re-election every two years. If they have a safe district, they can vote any way they want. If not, they do whatever it takes, particularly in their first re-election campaign. History tells us that if new congressmen win that second term, they are set for a long time. Whatever the future holds for the tea party or the Club for Growth, these guys are now fighting only for themselves.

So, what these numbers mean to me is that the tea party will be absorbed into the mainstream of the Republican Party or the Club for Growth will be just another faction driving wedges into a fracturing Republican Party.

The GOP, despite its continued lockstep voting against most everything -- and paraphrasing one of its most distinguished members -- is a party divided against itself, actually agreeing on very little now, except that it is desperate to destroy President Obama. If Republicans can do that, they can really go after each other.

More like Richard Reeves