There’s still hope for political moderates in both major parties who believe that compromise and cooperation are the best way to conduct America’s business. The tea party, which rode a wave of popular discontent to seize 87 congressional seats starting with the 2010 election, is seeing its fortunes rapidly wane.
We suspect American voters are tired of harrumphing, angry politicians who think the only way to fix what’s wrong in Washington is to say no at every turn. The tea party caucus was responsible for the budget impasse that shut down the government in 2013. Today, only half of the politicians who rode the tea party wave into congressional office remain there. Only three dozen are seeking re-election, The Associated Press reports.
The lessons are simple: “No” is not a plan. “No” is not leadership. “No” is a simplistic way to thwart progress without offering a better way forward. It might have felt good at the time for anti-taxation conservative voters to support tea party candidates, but when it came to paying off the soaring federal debt and making the uncomfortable choices that kept our country afloat after the Great Recession, those politicians came up short on solutions.
Conservative commentator Dana Loesch, who co-founded the St. Louis Tea Party in 2009, was among the first to abandon the grassroots movement in 2011.
President Donald Trump is living proof of the consequences when anti-tax populism lacks a clear plan to address deficits and trillion-dollar priorities for spending on defense, infrastructure or, say, a border wall. Trump’s tax-cut plan passed, and the federal debt ballooned to a record $21 trillion.
Governing requires give-and-take compromises that don’t always fit into the anti-taxation mold. Unforeseen problems such as wars and natural disasters wreak havoc on balanced-budget absolutism.
In Houston’s conservative suburbs last year, Hurricane Harvey turned tea party fanatics into realists. Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party champion, tried hard to hold the “no” line when it came to disaster-relief funding after Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast in 2012. He faced an embarrassing reversal when Congress cast a skeptical eye toward a $15.25 billion disaster-relief package for Houston, his hometown.
Cruz is now fighting to retain his seat. The Houston Chronicle reports that “Missing” posters are appearing around the city with Cruz’s photo attached, as if he were a missing pet. Tea party voters accuse him of betrayal. Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke has pulled within 10 percentage points against Cruz in preference polls—no small feat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.
The tea party model failed because it lacked a coherent strategy. Those who jumped behind the Trump model are likely to experience similar frustration. Politicians touting simplistic solutions rarely survive the test of time.