Kaine: GOP Is 'Going To Own' Tea Party's Rhetoric
Leading Democratic Party officials plan to link Republican candidates to the vitriol and offensive behavior that was witnessed at Tea Party protests during the last days of the health care debate.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine accused GOP leadership of "trying to stoke anger" with "flat-out lies" about the president's health care reform policy. Asked about the racist and anti-gay epithets that were directed towards House Democratic lawmakers during the closing days and hours before they passed legislation, Kaine wasn't subtle in assigning blame.
"The Republicans knew all that stuff was completely false, but they tried to stoke public anger based on that, and the anger has taken some very, frankly, predictable forms that I don't think they can't walk away from and explain," he said.
"[Republicans] are going to own part of that," the DNC chair added. "They're going to own part of the slurs cast at members of Congress, people vandalizing members of Congress' offices. Twice Republican members of Congress, sitting in the well of the House, behaved in rude and outrageous ways, yelling at a president in one instance with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), and then with [Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) yelling 'baby killer.'] When it's okay for leaders to do the rude, outrageous stuff like that, it sure sends a signal that the followers should do it too."
The comments from the DNC chair resemble a clear indication that Democrats will try to link the Tea Party protests that have erupted across the country and the Republican lawmakers who reside in Washington. The two, of course, are not one and the same -- though increasingly the lines of distinction seem unclear. While GOP leadership condemned the recent epithets, over the weekend a host of Republican lawmakers ventured outside the Capitol building to encourage the gathering of anti-health care activists. The more fringe members of the party suggested, in the days before the vote, that demons were roaming the halls of the nation's capitol and that a Velvet-Revolution-style uprising was needed to shut D.C. down. Only to be topped by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) who insisted that Armageddon could very well come with the passage of health care reform.
"To suggest that this is socialism, or the end of freedom as we know it, or Armageddon, is ludicrous," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "Their rhetoric was completely disproportionate with the debate."
Like Kaine, Axelrod sees the fury of the Tea Party crowd as a potential scar on the Republican image. But in reflecting on the health care debate shortly after the bill's passage, he pointed to the GOP's unbending antagonism to the president's agenda as its most profound political wart.
"I fully accept that principled opposition is not only expected but probably desirable in a democracy," he said, in an interview with the Huffington Post. "But obstruction as an ongoing tactic is not."
"I think that there are Republicans of good will who at some point will say, 'Do I want to be on this bus?' Because the bus is heading for a cliff. The unstinting, mindless opposition and hyperbole of the sort we saw on Sunday, may be helpful with some base of their party, but I don't think it is a strategy that is going to yield majority support. So I think they've got to think that through."
Ultimately, of course, the best pushback to GOP opposition is political success. And in getting health care reform into law, the Democratic Party (from the White House on down) essentially pushed the narrative that the Republicans can't even be trusted to do nothing. On Wednesday, for instance, the Boston Herald reported on dissatisfaction within the Massachusetts Republican ranks that Sen. Scott Brown wasn't able to deliver a health care defeat.
As the GOP now looks to campaign on repealing health care reform, the dynamics of the debate remain very much the same. Only now, Kaine argues, Democrats are blessed with tangible reforms on which to campaign.
"I think this issue is going to play a very sizable [role in 2010]," the former Virginia governor said. "I think that the condition of the economy and health care are probably going to be two of the big things. And I really do. I encourage the Republicans to run a repeal campaign just like Alf Landon did on Social Security in 1936, because the prospect of telling parents that, "Okay, now you can't keep kids on your policy," or telling seniors, "You've got to pay more for your prescription drugs," people getting kicked around by their insurance companies. How about this for a bumper sticker? 'Bring back preexisting conditions.' Oh my gosh, I want them to do that."
Poll: Tea partiers like GOP
While tea party activists have described themselves as political free agents disgusted with both parties, a new poll by Quinnipiac University shows that a majority have a close connection to the GOP.
Almost three quarters of those who identified themselves as part of the tea party movement – 74 percent – also identified themselves as Republicans or independents who lean Republican, according to the poll. Only 16 percent of tea partiers said they are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.
And 60 percent of voters who identify themselves as members of the tea party movement have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared to only 20 percent who view the GOP unfavorably.
Put another way, more than one fifth – 21 percent - of those who described themselves as Republicans said they also considered themselves part of the tea party movement, compared to 15 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats.
The poll was based on interviews with 1,900 voters. Thirteen percent responded yes to the question: “Do you consider yourself part of the tea party movement?” – a percentage roughly equal to the size of the African-American electorate.
Those who described themselves as tea party activists are nearly twice as likely to regard the GOP favorably as are voters as a whole, according to the poll. Among all voters surveyed, the poll found that the Republican and Democratic parties had identically dismal 33 percent favorability ratings, with 48 percent harboring unfavorable views of the Democratic Party and 42 regarding the GOP unfavorably.
According to the poll, 82 percent of tea partiers have an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party.
That number, combined with tea partiers’ identification as Republican and their highly favorable view of the GOP, might allay somewhat the concerns of among Republican leaders that their prospects for significant gains in the 2010 congressional midterm could be jeopardized by tea party activists who have mobilized in opposition to what they see as runaway spending by President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Republicans have worked to woo the activists, many of whom are new to politics, even astea party organizers insist that the movement has no allegiance to either party.
In addition to being largely Republican, the poll found tea partiers are mainly white (88 percent), voted for 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain (77 percent) and adore his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is eying a run for the 2012 GOP nomination and has made a concerted play for tea party affection.
While only about a third of all respondents had a favorable opinion of Palin, three quarters of tea partiers viewed her favorably.
Tea partiers “are not in a traditional sense swing voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. They “could be a boon to the GOP if they are energized to support Republican candidates.” But he added, “if the tea party were to run its own candidates for office, any votes its candidate received would to a very great extent be coming from the GOP column.”
When asked if they were faced with a general election ballot that included a tea party congressional candidate, 40 percent of self-identified tea partiers said they’d choose that candidate, while 31 percent said they’d vote for the Republican and 9 percent indicated they’d cast their ballot for the Democrat.
That’s mostly a moot concern headed into the 2010 midterm elections, since tea parties have only qualified for the ballot in two states – Nevada and Florida – and in both cases, they’ve faced backlash from tea party activists.
Brown said the poll also found that tea partiers are less educated, but more interested in politics.
And though 70 percent of all respondents indicated they were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the way things are going in America today, a whopping 92 percent of tea partiers said they’re dissatisfied.