Tea Party to GOP: We Made You, So Now Repeal Obamacare

The conservative movement is getting less media attention even as it demands to control the agenda.

Demonstrators with the Tea Party protest the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting of the Tea Party and similar groups during a rally called 'Audit the IRS' outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 19, 2013.

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The tinny voice of Mitch McConnell peeped out of an iPhone speaker and echoed into an empty room. It was shortly before 2:30, and a coalition of conservative groups was gathering to explain how the Republican majority needed to do what the base was asking. It was what they were hearing from the local Tea Party groups that, increasingly, blamed their post-2011 shrinkage on the IRS's campaigns against them. Conservatives demanded credit for 2014.

"The Karl Rove branch of the GOP is now trying to damage the Tea Party brand," said Tom Zawistowski, executive director of Portage County, Ohio's Tea Party group. "That's a bunch of bunk. He's basically inferring that the Tea Party candidates were inferior, but he happens to leave out Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton. He's trying to fool the media."

That media did not exactly flood the press conference. (Confession: I stumbled upon it after talking to people at another National Press Club event, and running into co-organizer Richard Viguerie in a hallway.) Twelve reporters showed up to make use of 30 chairs; a 13th participant in the presser turned out to be an "independent Muslim lobbyist" who wanted the leaders of Tea Party Patriots, the Susan B. Anthony List, For America, Citizens United, and the Family Research Council to talk about how conservatives could reach out to Muslims.

That was not quite what they wanted to discuss. "Conservatives helped nationalize this election," said Viguerie. "It was a rejection of both the Chamber of Commerce and Obama's failed agenda."

The SBA List's Marjorie Dannenfelser asked Congress to "take the pain-capable [anti-abortion] bill up in the first 100 days." For America's Brent Bozell, the fire-spitting head of the Media Research Center, asked the media to remember that every winning Republican candidate opposed the Affordable Care Act.

"That's a unanimous promise to the American people to be against this," he said. "The Republican Party ran 35,000 TV ads about Obamacare alone in the month of October alone. They need to move to repeal Obamacare as fast as the doors of the new Congress swing open."

And Jenny Beth Martin, the Georgia activist who came to lead the Tea Party Patriots, read a statement that asked Republicans to "earn" their majority.

"Live up to your promises," she said. "Use reconciliation to pass a bill repealing Obamacare and put it on the president's desk." The statements by victorious Republicans, including McConnell, were lacking those promises. "Obamacare is mentioned nowhere, neither is blocking the president's proposed amnesty."

I asked the assembled leaders what the legacy of the 2013 shutdown had been. Bozell took the question with a scoff. "One of your media polls said that 39 percent of people blamed Republicans, 39 percent blamed Obama, and nobody gave a damn," he said.

When the press conference ended, I checked with Martin about the Tea Party's actual relationship to the new GOP majority. What did Republicans need to earn, if they'd beaten Tea Party insurgents in primaries. 

"Thad Cochran was a special case," said Martin, referring to the Mississippi senator who survived the closest challenge from the right. "By the end, he was even running based on the same principles and issues we've been talking about." 

That was Zawistowski's point, too. "The Republicans don't come close to taking back the Senate that the Tea Party agrees to elect some of these stooges they put up in Mississippi and Kansas," he said. "Karl Rove talks about quality candidates. How do you call Thad Cochran a quality candidate when he gets lost in the Capitol building after the election? Look, there were 55 people from Ohio going down every weekend with Concerned Veterans of America. They went down to Charlotte to work where Republicans weren't working. Guess what it came down to? Charlotte, because of these people who worked without pay to beat Kay Hagan."

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