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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Sunday, December 1, 2013, 15:17 By Charles Laffiteau

Hot on the heels of America’s latest brush with defaulting on its debt, a war is being waged between pragmatic Republican business leaders and anti-government Tea Party ideologues for the soul of the Republican Party.

Unfortunately for American business and economic interests, the Republican Party of the 21st century has embraced a radical form of conservatism that’s capable of winning some local and state elections but will never win nationally. Senator Ted Cruz and his fellow Tea Partiers practice a bomb-throwing form of conservatism that could not govern the country even if the GOP did take The White House.
For example, the recent three-week US government shutdown did not in any way succeed in advancing Cruz and the Tea Party’s strategy of defunding so-called ‘Obamacare’. But since Congress also ended up paying all federal workers for their unplanned three-week furlough, Cruz’s tactics did succeed in adding $24bn to the national debt. It goes without saying that Cruz and the Tea Party are also the same folks who claim that their top priority is to reduce our nation’s debt.
Some Republican politicos have privately acknowledged that the influence of Tea Party activists on Republican politicians does not bode well for our country. They know we need to set aside ideological issues in order to effectively address a number of long-term problems but they remain quiet because they are afraid of what Tea Party activists will do to them when they run for re-election. They point to how conservative US senators like Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar ran afoul of the Tea Party and were later beaten by TP-backed politicians in their most recent home state primaries.
Since more than 60 per cent of Republicans who claim allegiance to the Tea Party’s anti-government extremism are retired, the politicians they support never lack for campaign workers and volunteers. Moreover, billionaires like Steve Stephens and the Koch brothers make sure that Tea Party favourites are well financed. These self-dealing plutocrats use their Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity organisations to provide Tea Party candidates with millions of dollars in campaign financing as well as ‘independent’ attack ads aimed squarely at their opponents.
But at long last, the nearly catastrophic brush with default on our nation’s debt that Cruz and his Tea Party minions engineered seems to have finally aroused the ire of many of the business groups that have historically financed most local, state and national Republican election campaigns.
Shortly after the government shutdown ended, Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, voiced his opposition to Cruz’s legislative tactics by saying that one of the things they wanted to work with the Texan senator on was to help him “sit down and shut up”.
Donohue joins a number of other business leaders and lobbyists who have recently acknowledged they need to counter the Tea Party strain of Republican conservatism that led to the October shutdown by only supporting candidates dedicated to working for the long-term economic health of America. But the current problem that many business leaders have with the Cruz and his approach to governance is also a problem of their own making. After all, Donahue and his ilk opened their wallets wide in support of large numbers of Republican Tea Party candidates during the 2010 and 2012 state and national elections
Despite their near-universal opposition to Congressional Republicans using the threat of debt default as a political bargaining chip, many of the same legislators they supported in the last two elections nevertheless steered the country toward a default on our national debt. While most business leaders were in agreement that the government shutdown was a needless waste of money, what really alarmed them was the Tea Party’s willingness to default. As a consequence, getting involved in the Republican primaries by providing heavy financial support for moderate pro-business challengers to thwart the ambitions of Tea Party-backed politicians has now become the top priority for many business lobbyists.
The initial results have been promising. Thanks to big campaign donations from AT&T, General Electric and Wal-Mart, Bradley Byrne, a mild-mannered Republican state legislator, scored an upset win over Tea Party favourite Dean Young in the Republican special election primary on 5 November to fill one of Alabama’s open congressional seats.
Yet business lobbyists are doing a lot more than just running their own candidates to fill open seats in congress. They are also backing business-friendly house Republicans like Mike Simpson and conservative Democrats like John Barrow in their primary and general election contests against the Tea Party. Most importantly of all, however, is their decision to bankroll primary challenges against Republican Tea Party incumbents like Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio. If these TP favourites lose their seats, maybe other Republicans will finally find their backbones and take a stand against Tea Party extremism.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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