Nine weeks from today, Americans will head to the polls to select the members of the 114th Congress. Leading the day at Politico is a piece which suggests that the House GOP is already underperforming, given the expectation that this would be a strong Republican year across the board.
“Tepid fundraising, underperforming candidates and a lousy party brand are threatening to deprive House Republicans of the sweeping 2014 gains that some top party officials have been predicting this year,” wrote Politico’s Alex Isenstadt. He noted that the GOP is on pace to pick up just five or six seats in the lower chamber of Congress.
But the stakes are higher than merely what size the GOP House majority will be in January of next year. According to Politico, a midterm cycle in which the Republicans only gain a handful of seats would mean that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will remain beholden to the “tea party wing of the party, with little room to maneuver on a governing agenda.”
It is not clear if it was one of the GOP strategists who sounded the alarm that too many House GOP candidates are running underwhelming campaigns, which could mean the tea party wing maintains its status as perennial wrench in the gears of government. If it was, that is not an entirely irrational concern.
In October, 2013, the tea party wing – in conjunction with some Senate conservatives – forced a government shutdown with a disastrous effect on the party’s brand. In late July, conservative members compelled the withdrawal of a bill which would address what they called a “crisis” at the Southern border, shifting the media’s focus from the White House’s sluggish approach to that emergency onto the GOP. Before Barack Obama backed off a plan to extend legal status to millions of immigrants reportedly at the request of vulnerable Senate Democrats, the House GOP may again have forced a shutdown of the government when it came time to pass a new continuing resolution.
“Establishment” Republicans are, however, focused entirely on the downsides associated with having an energetic Tea Party Caucus in the House GOP. There are, of course, a few upsides – most notably, the enthusiasm of the tea party grassroots.
According to Gallup polling, the American electorate is deeply dispirited. Only 33 percent of American voters have been paying close attention to the coming midterms, lower than in 2010 (a strong GOP year) and 2006 (a strong Democratic year). However, among those who are watching the elections closely, the GOP maintains a comfortable lead.
Among Republicans, 42 percent say they are following the news regarding the coming midterms closely. Only 27 percent of Democrats said the same.
While this is no indication of how either party will perform in November, it is a clue to how GOP-leaning the electorate will be. That enthusiasm is due in large part to the Republican Party’s tea party wing, which still makes up about a third of the Republican coalition.
The House of Representatives has always been an unruly animal. It is the role of leadership to rein in those conference members who would rather make headaches for the party brass, and make names for themselves in the process, than serve as just one congruent voice among hundreds. Virtually every successful House leadership team has had to contend with an obstreperous and willful few who aim to frustrate their party’s grand strategy, but the republic has endured.
Instead of blaming the tea party wing for its disruptive nature, maybe it is time to take a hard look at how the GOP leadership in the lower chamber is managing affairs.