Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Craziest Republicans of the Day: Michele Bachmann and the members of the new Tea Party Caucus

Just for the record, I'm all for House Republicans organizing a Tea Party Caucus. And I completely support the decision of the Democratic leadership to allow it.

Why? Well, first, it exposes these Republicans for what they are, a group of fringe-conservative extremists who advocate an agenda that, however mainstream in the GOP, is well to the right of the American electorate. And, of course, we're not just talking about the consistently crazy Bachmann and a few others, we're talking about a significant chunk of House Republicans. And, second, it divides Republicans and forces them to take sides:

With the official formation of a congressional Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Michele Bachmann has thrust an existential question before House Republican leaders: Are you in or are you out?

Indiana's Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Conference, was adamant. "You betcha," he said, deploying a Minnesota catch phrase.

But Minority Leader John Boehner won't have his name on the caucus list.

And Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and his chief deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California -- known as "Young Guns" for the GOP -- are undecided.

Minnesota's Bachmann, a favorite of the tea party movement, earned approval from the Democratic leadership for her caucus late last week. It came as a bit of a surprise to her leadership, whom she didn't forewarn before formally applying to create the caucus.

"It was something we were doing on our own," Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said. "Ultimately, we just pulled the trigger."

Indeed, the tea party movement is a loaded political weapon for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

Until now, they have had the luxury of enjoying the benefits of tea party enthusiasm without having to actually declare membership. But now that Bachmann has brought the tea party inside the Capitol, House Republican leaders and rank-and-file members may have to choose whether to join the institutionalized movement.

It's like a purity test. Either you're with them or you're a heretic. You're a good Republican if you're with them, but you're also formally exposed as an extremist, increasing your unelectability. (It's hardly any wonder that a more cautious Republican like Boehner is against it -- or at least against joining it.)

And the Democrats were right to allow this to happen. As Noam Scheiber put it today over at Chait's place:

In most cases, there's a kind of implicit alliance between tactical radicals of one party and the establishment of the other -- both are gunning for the same thing, albeit from different directions. (One recalls Karl Rove cheering on Howard Dean during the 2004 presidential primaries.) But in this case the alliance was nearly explicit: The tactical radicals in the House wanted to form an organization that would create all sorts of headaches for the GOP leadership, and the Democratic leadership worked with them to expedite the process.
Nicely done.

Keep it up, Tea Party Republicans. We're with you all the way.

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