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The World at Home

Last update - Sunday, December 1, 2013, 15:02 By Charles Laffiteau

Following the latest failed attempt to impose the will of the minority on the majority of American citizens, I think it’s worth pivoting from my discussion of Syria’s Islamic extremists to point out the many similarities that exist between them and America’s Tea Party extremists.

Both of these groups eschew any type of compromise with their political opponents because they view it as sacrificing their respective religious or political ‘principles’. Members of both groups believe that their own particular political or religious beliefs are absolutely right, which means these beliefs represent ‘good’, and all other political or religious beliefs must be totally wrong, so they are bad or ‘evil’.
Tea Party extremists have embraced fundamentally flawed interpretations of the US Constitution and false narratives about the intentions of its authors as unquestionable facts. For their part, Islamic political extremists regard equally flawed interpretations of the Qur’an and erroneous stories about the true intentions and beliefs of the Prophet Muhammad as the absolute truth. Their inability to process information that is at odds with their rigid views of right and wrong also explains why both sets of political extremists are so bound and determined to impose their extreme political or religious views on their ‘misguided’ fellow citizens.
From my perspective, the only real difference between these Middle East and American blocs of political extremism is the Islamists’ willingness to use terrorist violence as a means to accomplish their ends. Thus far, at least, the Tea Party extremists have not encouraged their followers to initiate suicide bombings or take up arms against the American government. But I can’t help but wonder if this will always be the case.
The Tea Party’s overall favourability ratings peaked at 32 per cent back in November 2010. But with each passing day, fewer Americans have a favourable opinion about the Tea Party. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that just 21 per cent of Americans – and only 38 per cent of Republicans – view the Tea Party in a positive light. Since Republican Tea Party cabal, led by Ted Cruz, were the main proponents of the senseless US government shut down, it also comes as no surprise that only 24 per cent of Americans still have a good opinion of the Republican Party itself.
Yet despite its waning national influence, the Tea Party serves as an excellent example of how a shrinking political minority can expand its influence in a political democracy by intimidating less extreme politicians within the same political wing. While the GOP’s Tea Party wing doesn’t actually have a leader per se, in the wake of his failed attempt to stop funding for Obamacare most observers would agree that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is the current darling of Tea Party activists throughout America. So how did Cruz accomplish this?
Despite a rapidly growing Hispanic population that tilts heavily towards the Democratic Party, Texas will remain a solidly Republican state for at least another decade. While Democrats hold most of the elected offices in the urban areas and cities of Texas, it has been almost 20 years since one of their own was elected to state-wide office. In fact, no American state has been without at least one Democratic state-level office holder for as long as Texas has. So Ted Cruz’s political fate was decided in the Republican primary rather than the general election.
Thanks to heavy support from Tea Party activists and the financial backing of billionaire Steve Stephens, Cruz defeated David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican primary for US Senator and doesn’t have to worry about running for re-election until 2018. And since Cruz doesn’t rely on financial support from the business interests that have traditionally dominated the Republican Party, he’s also impervious to pressure from establishment Senate Republicans to rein in his non-stop grandstanding and play a more constructive role in the Senate.
Furthermore, even though Senate leader Mitch McConnell made him vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator Cruz has shown no interest in re-electing more moderate incumbent Republican senators. Instead, he spends most of his time working for the Senate Conservatives Club, which pressures Republican legislators who are willing to compromise with Democrats with threats to solicit challengers to run against them in Republican primaries.
Since the majority of GOP incumbents hail from reliably Republican suburban and rural districts, they’re not afraid of losing to a Democrat in the general election. Rather, their greatest fear is losing to a Republican primary challenger. Ted Cruz and his Tea Party backers have cleverly used that fear to increase their influence over lawmakers. Most Republicans knew that shutting down the government and risking a default on American debt was a losing strategy, and they told Cruz as much. But in a testament to the power and influence the Tea Party faction wields those same Republicans ended up going along with him anyway, hoping that by doing so they would prevent a Tea Party-backed primary challenge – and yet again acting on their own interests above those of the American people.

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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