It's been a year since the debate over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and whether or not it should also include spending cuts. The debate in many ways manifested what people thought about Congress assumed but was not confirmed. In turn, approval of Congress approval rating nosedived, to the point where it had a 9% approval rating. In turn, there has been a sense of how the country's politics got so polarized, particularly on the right and the rise of prominent conservative activists who have pushed for strident adherence to principle. Yet while most outside of the American Right Wing have been quick to point out the radicalization of the Republican Party and their marriage to the Tea Party, it appears that many in the Republican Party are having a case of buyer's remorse after making such a bargain.
Case in point, in the primary election, Tea Party Favorites Rep. Michele Bachmann, Governor Rick Perry and Herman Cain all enjoyed brief spurts of success. All of them were seen as threats to frontrunner Governor Mitt Romney. Yet in the end, all of them dropped out rather early and Congressman Ron Paul, the intellectual godfather of the Tea Party, never got higher than second place in any of the contests he competed in. Ultimately, the party wound up picking the equivalent of the prom third wheel in Governor Romney largely because of the fact that he is a candidate who is not tied to the Tea Party and does not speak with the fervor that his counterparts does. In addition, the candidate who forced Governor Romney to the right, Senator Rick Santorum, was not a Tea Partier but an old-fashioned social/neoconservative.
Similarly, this week, Senator Tom Coburn published an editorial in the New York Times, excoriating Grover Norquist, the zealous head of Americans for Tax Reform, who created the now infamous pledge calling for no increases in taxes. Nobody would ever accuse Coburn of being a tax-and-spend RINO; he recently released a book on deficit reduction, supported the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and famously blocked the Zadroga Bill, which would have provided healthcare to those who responded to 9/11. Rather, Coburn seems to be pushing for an end to the games for the sake of fiscal conservatism, rather than in a mutiny against it. The fact that he is willing to say speak out against the shenanigans of a prominent activist like Norquist shows a possible break in the fever that has emblazoned the Republican Congress.
In addition, it appears the electoral arm of the Republican Party has seen that Tea Party politics may not be the best route to winning elections going forward. Numerous Republican Congressional candidates have said they would not sign Norquist's pledge. Tellingly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, albeit a fiscal conservative but also a someone who criticizes the war on drugs, will be giving the keynote address at the GOP's convention in August, signaling a possibly different tone for the future of conservatism in America. In addition, it was also revealed that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Vice Presidential Candidate and Tea Party darling, was not invited to Tampa.
Lastly, it appears that the vitriolic outlandish claims that Tea Party politicians have previously contended have also grown out of fashion. This week, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and four other members of Congress, alleged the State Department was being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, going as high as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin. These types of claims are not new to Bachmann, as she is the same woman who in 2008 accused then-Senator Barack Obama of having anti-American views and called for investigations into members of Congress for such sentiments. Similarly, the Tea Party has been alleging President Obama was not born in the United States, and party leadership has either not tried to squelch these claims or have said such half-hearted "I take the President at his word."
Yet with this recent string of accusations, Bachmann has been met with strong backlash. Senator John McCain returned to his maverick roots by giving a speech on the Senate floor defending Abedin, saying “I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend.” Similarly, Speaker of the House John Boehner, soon followed suit, saying the accusations were "pretty dangerous." Even Bachmann's former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, denounced his former client in an op-editorial on Fox News of all sites.
The GOP is often accused of allowing the furthest wings of the party take over from the grown-ups, as was the case with Senator Joe McCarthy, the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater, and with the rise of Newt Gingrich's rancorous tactics during his tenure as Speaker of the House. Yet what is also important to realize in all of those cases was that at one point or another, there were those grown-ups in the party who took a stand to say "enough;" as was the case with Senator Margaret Chase Smith against McCarthy, Governor George Romney refusing to endorse Goldwater's candidacy, and with the the attempted coup against Newt Gingrich and his eventual ouster led mainly by those in his own party after the government shutdown and his own indiscretions. While some of those efforts failed to prevent the party from self-immolation, it should not discourage modern conservatives who care enough about their party enough to break Reagan's 11th commandment and call foul.