Uh, oh…will we soon hear an apology from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham? It’s bad enough (to some) that during Obama administration Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s recent hearings Graham seemed to be leaning to voting yes on her even though he grilled her relentlessly. But now he has dissed the Tea Party movement — a sin in today’s Republican party second only to dissing the party’s Higher (and heavier) Power.
It comes in a must-read New York Times piece that will likely mean Graham will walk with a bigger political target than ever on his back. It’s titled “This Year’s Maverick,” and it notes that the former model of political Maverick, John McCain, has been recalled by one John McCain who has now morphed into the kind of mega-partisan, lockstep Republican that the 2000 model of John McCain seemingly disdained.
Graham gives us his our political Quote of the Day on how he views the Tea Party movement:
In years past, Graham’s deal-making forays typically featured his close friend, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as the frontman. Nowadays McCain has shucked his maverick ways in order to court his state’s G.O.P. primary voters, while Graham’s reflexive displays of bipartisanship have made him something of a scourge among South Carolina Tea Partiers. Harry Kibler fingered Graham as major prey in Kibler’s “RINO hunt” (Republicans in Name Only). The South Carolina chapter of Resist.net warns constituents that Graham “is up to his old reach-across-the-aisle tricks again!” Among the conservative activists who have called for censuring Graham as a quisling of the right is the state’s G.O.P. gubernatorial nominee and Tea Party favorite, Nikki Haley.
“Everything I’m doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at,” Graham said as Cato drove him to the city of Greenwood, where he was to give a commencement address at Lander University later that morning. On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was “very, very contentious,” he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: “ ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.”
In a previous conversation, Graham told me: “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: “We don’t have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.” Chortling, he added, “Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”
Graham is correct: 1)Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting his party’s nomination for President today, 2) both George Bushes would have a hard time with Tea Partiers today 3)the Tea Party movement right now is a potent oppositional force but its affirmative policies are hard to discern.
The tip for the Tea Party movement — and for Democrats — will come on election day 2010.
If the GOP does as well as many expect then expect the Tea Party to be riding high and for Obama & Co to face more trouble within their party, particularly from the Democrats’ progressive wing. Expect intra party tensions within the Dems to accentaute.
If the GOP doesn’t do as well as expected or does a lot worse than many expect, the expect the Tea Party to be over in terms of greatly steering the Republican party except for all but some talk show hosts. But the Tea Party members will say the GOP didn’t do as well as they hoped because the party was not conservative enough.
Right now, as Obama and the Democrats continue sinking in the polls amid crises like the Gulf Oil spill aggravated by storms and increasingly bad news about the economy, the Tea Party’s cup runneth over.
And some will likely spill on Graham due to his comments — particularly if they’re coupled with vote to confirm Kagan.
UPDATE: A few other views:
The reason I put “movement” in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it’s a contingent with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no meaningful connection to reality. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they’re talking about. Genuine political movements — civil rights, women’s suffrage, labor unions — have, as Graham put it, a “coherent vision.” The Tea Party has Hitler signs and a cable news network, but that’s not much of a substitute.
Indeed, there’s already some evidence the “movement” may be “in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together.”
But Graham’s remarks, while defensible, are likely to cause all manner of trouble for him. He’s already been condemned by right-wing South Carolinians, and that was just for talking to Democrats about possible compromises on public policy. For Graham to trash the confused Tea Party crowd — to the New York Times, no less — will likely make his life in Republican politics considerably more difficult.
As for Graham’s observation that Reagan “would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today,” it’s hard to overstate how true this is.
As for Graham’s broader point about the Tea Party, that’s just a fact of American political life. Protest movements in this country simply haven’t lasted for very long without either dying out, or being swallowed into one of the major political parties. In the case of the Tea Party, I don’t see the movement lasting for long after the 2012 elections. Either they will succeed in getting President Obama defeated and become the new face of the GOP, or they will fail and the Republican Party will begin another cycle of trying to figure out what it’s supposed to stand for.
Of course, Graham’s remarks are likely to inflame his opponents in the GOP and the Tea Party movement, but I don’t get the impression that he really cares.
If you didn’t know anything else about the piece, you’d probably be safe to surmise it won’t play well with the Jim DeMint crowd in South Carolina.
His comments underscore the rift between the anti-establishment Tea Party groups and some Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who was ousted for another term by Tea Party groups at his state’s GOP convention, has taken several shots at the group since his defeat.
The three-term senator suggested the movement simply thrives off voter anger and does not act rationally. This week, Bennett also made similar comments to Graham, saying that the GOP is running short on ideas.
Other Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), have praised the movement for its energy and enthusiasm.
Lame RINO’s need to die out…
Graham better hope the Tea Party movement dies out in time for 2014, the next time he is up for re-election. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey from May found that among South Carolina Republican primary voters, only 40% approved of Graham, with 45% disapproving. And when asked whether they would support Graham or a conservative primary challenger, 57% would go for the challenger to only 32% for Graham.
If the Tea Partiers are still around in 2014, they’ll remember these new quotes.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.