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Lindsey Graham: Tea Party Movement Is Unsustainable

In addition to commenting about the rumors about his personal life, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham also fired a shot across the Tea Party movement’s bow in his New York Times Magazine interview:

“Everything I’m doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at,” Graham said as Cato drove him to the city of Greenwood, where he was to give a commencement address at Lander University later that morning. On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was “very, very contentious,” he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: “ ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.”

In a previous conversation, Graham told me: “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: “We don’t have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.” Chortling, he added, “Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

On that last point, Graham isn’t very far off the mark. The Ronald Reagan that governed for eight years in the 80s was, in many ways, very different from the mythos that many on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, have created of a tax-cutting, hawkish foreign policy-following conservative icon. For example, Reagan raised taxes more than once during his eight years in office, he supported an immigration reform bill that granted amnesty to illegal immigrants, and while he did rebuild a decaying American military, he was also fiercely opposed to nuclear weapons and believed that they should be abolished from the planet.

Would such a candidate have a chance in the Tea Party Republican Party of 2010 ? It’s hard to say, but it’s by no means certain that he would be as lovingly received as he is remembered.

As for Graham’s broader point about the Tea Party, that’s just a fact of American political life. Protest movements in this country simply haven’t lasted for very long without either dying out, or being swallowed into one of the major political parties. In the case of the Tea Party, I don’t see the movement lasting for long after the 2012 elections. Either they will succeed in getting President Obama defeated and become the new face of the GOP, or they will fail and the Republican Party will begin another cycle of trying to figure out what it’s supposed to stand for.

Of course, Graham’s remarks are likely to inflame his opponents in the GOP and the Tea Party movement, but I don’t get the impression that he really cares.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    You really think they’ll make it all the way to 2012? I suspect they’ll be little more than dead-enders by early 2011, especially if Republicans make the predicted gains in Congress.

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  2. In some form or another, yes to the extent that the Tea Parties are primarily anti-Obama

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  3. As I recall, Reagan raised taxes with an agreement to have commensurate cuts in spending, but a bunch of liars saw to it that the second shoe never dropped. I also believe that Reagan approved an amnesty program for illegal aliens with the understanding that it would be the last, absolutely the last, cross my heart and hope to die last time it would ever happen. But again, the liars have struck.

    I still think the Tea Party movement is very misunderstood, perhaps intentionally so. It is not a top down order like the GOP or DNC. It is a bunch of people who are quite certain they don’t like what they see in national politics today, even if they lack a coherent plan on what should take it’s place. The problem with Senator Graham’s take is that he assumes that what he and President Obama, et al, have is a coherent plan. Well, that and damn the proles for presuming to criticize. And it is a serious mistake to conflate the Tea Party with the GOP, although most Tea Party afficianados will tend to be more aligned with the GOP than the DNC.

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  4. steve says:

    “As I recall, Reagan raised taxes with an agreement to have commensurate cuts in spending, but a bunch of liars saw to it that the second shoe never dropped.”

    Bartlett, who was there, has written a lot about this. When the deficit increased dramatically, ie, revenues did not increase enough to make up for the cuts, he raised taxes. his was independent of any spending plans. Indeed, one would not have expected an experienced politician like Reagan to raise first, then count on the opposition. Reagan behave responsibly over what he could control.

    The immigration thing has also just got to be spin. How the heck could you guarantee what people in the future would do? That suggests a level of naivete that is not compatible with Reagan’s experience.

    Steve

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  5. Hugh says:

    I don’t think that the Tea Party is ‘anti Obama’ in a strict personal sense. If President Pelosi was (spending trillions on stimulus | taking over car companies | pushing allies away | etc) then the Tea Parties would rally against her.

    I think to view this in personal terms misses the point. The public is sick of the ruling class, especially an ineffective ruling class.

    If he ends up becoming the leader of the House, Speaker Boehner won’t be in a much better position to deal with this anger.

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  6. Herb says:

    “In some form or another, yes to the extent that the Tea Parties are primarily anti-Obama”

    Hmmm…..yeah, perhaps. But it’s not like the Republicans are PRO-Obama. I’m not sure they’ll survive much long without something else besides “anti-Obama.” The GOP’s got that too, and so much more…….

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  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Notice the gulf and tell me you are pro Obama. He asked, what did you expect me to do? Suck it up a straw. All he had to do was think of it as cocaine. Or do you think he was a crackhead? Herb I do not remember much pro Bush rhetoric out of you. If anyone here had been paying attenition, you would understand the tea party people want the constitution followed. Limits on government. Therefore the tea party is mostly anti large government. Somewhere around 9/11 you will probably see a bunch of the on the mall in DC.

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  8. matt says:

    What’s funny is if the gulf incident had occur ed during Bush’s term Good ol ZRIII would be blaming Clinton..

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  9. Brian Knapp says:

    If anyone here had been paying attenition, you would understand the tea party people want the constitution followed. Limits on government. Therefore the tea party is mostly anti large government. Somewhere around 9/11 you will probably see a bunch of the on the mall in DC.

    If this is true, then where were they during the Bush years? Because the fed didn’t grow in power and scope? Or even during the Clinton administration?

    This is about emotional reactions to uncertain circumstances and fitting ideology in after the fact to try and justify anger, frustration, fear and anxiety. Which is of course no different than most political discourse from the public, but it means that the Tea Party really isn’t anything special. Decent branding perhaps, but even good branding loses out if there is no product. And I think that this is what Graham is saying.

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  10. Steve Plunk says:

    During the Bush years Tea Party sentiment was simmering but with the new spending binge at 4 times the Bush levels that simmer has turned into a boil. The same could be said for any time up until now. The levels are unsustainable and dangerous for the economy. It’s become tiresome to hear people ask ‘where were you when Bush was president?’.

    As long as the country is being governed in an irresponsible manner the fuel for Tea Party activism will be present. It’s not just them. American’s for Prosperity, Freedom Works, Club for Growth, and others have tapped the internet to inform and educate the public of how bad things are being run. With a coming public pension disaster public finance will only get worse. Taxes will rise while services will fall and that will anger even more people.

    Graham has an interest in pronouncing the Tea Party to be near dead. It threatens him and the old guard with replacement. What’s funny is he thinks they should have all the answers. He points out they know what’s wrong but fell silent when asked what exactly they did want. What they want is real conservative leadership, honest politicians, and smaller government. Those are not what Lindsey Graham is about. I wonder if he figured that out?

    The Tea Party will likely be swallowed by the Republicans but instead of quietly absorbing them I expect the Republicans to transform from their influence. The progressives have sent this country toward ruin in a matter of months and the independents have noticed. Expect a substantial backlash and return to conservative economic values.

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  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***What’s funny is if the gulf incident had occur ed during Bush’s term Good ol ZRIII would be blaming Clinton..***

    If the oil spill would have happened during Bush’s tern there would have been hundreds of thousands of brainwashed liberal goons marching in the streets, burning cars, and attacking the police…in like the first couple days…..

    ***If this is true, then where were they during the Bush years? Because the fed didn’t grow in power and scope? Or even during the Clinton administration?***

    sleeping…..the violations were not so devastatingly obvious to the masses as they are now.

    So do all of you liberal carry towels? lol……….

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  12. An Interested Party says:

    So…was Reagan just a stupid old fool because he kept falling for the sweet words of all those “liars”?

    “I don’t think that the Tea Party is ‘anti Obama’ in a strict personal sense.”

    Oh really? How come they only came on the scene when he was in the White House?

    “It’s become tiresome to hear people ask ‘where were you when Bush was president?’”

    Of course it is, because that is a question that you can’t answer satisfactorily…

    “Expect a substantial backlash and return to conservative economic values.”

    Oh sure, because it was just all those liberal economic values which got us into this mess in the first place…who knew that Bush and his GOP allies were so liberal…

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  13. Hugh says:

    AIP, I understand your perspective on the timing of the Tea Party movement, but let me propose another explanation.

    You’re right that Republicans, to their great shame, went on a spending spree and that early on few complained. But that started changing late in Bush’s presidency when he lost his ‘fiscal conservative’ base. That has accelerated rapidly after the economy turned and now after all the bailouts, stimulus, automobile takeovers, and the like it’s reached a tipping point. Everything looks and feels different now that we have to dig ourselves out of that hole.

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  14. “Everything I’m doing now … is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at …”

    This is why you represent the GOP’s failed recent past, Mr. Graham.

    http://libertyatstake.blogspot.com/
    [For a light hearted take on our present peril]

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  15. [...] today, Doug Mataconis noted The Ronald Reagan that governed for eight years in the 80s was, in many ways, very different [...]

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    “Everything looks and feels different now that we have to dig ourselves out of that hole.”

    Oh? So there was no hole to dig out of before the bailouts, stimulus, etc….none of those things were needed at all?

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    Hugh:

    Let me propose another answer: a trillion dollars “off budget” for wars? GOP loves it. Tax cuts for wealthy people? GOP loves it. And who was it who said, “Deficits don’t matter?” That’d be Karl Rove. And who was it who took a surplus and turned it into a deficit? That would be the GOP>

    Then: black president.

    And suddenly the old, white, southern Tea Partiers discover an obsession with deficits.

    Which will last until we get a white Republican back in office.

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  18. sam says:

    And suddenly the old, white, southern Tea Partiers discover an obsession with deficits.

    Which will last until we get a white Republican back in office.

    Word.

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  19. superdestroyer says:

    All the points made about Reagan demonstrate that the Reagan Administration had no ability (similiar to the lack of ability in both Bush Administrations) to think about the long term consequences of their policy decisions.

    Amnesty had created millions of more automatic Democratic voters who support higher taxes, bigger government, and more race.ethnicity based government. The policy decisions of Reagan has turn California from a state that Republicans could win to a state where the Republicans are irrelevant.

    The Reagan Administration’s inability to control spending means that the Americans face the largest deficit and no chance to control spending.

    The real long term legacy of the Reagan Administration (and the Bush Administrations) is turning the U.S. into a one party state that will dominated by the Democrats.

    Even the La Raza corporate suck up Republicans who post at Outsidethebeltway refuse to think about the long term consequences of their policy proposals, so I guess they are continuing the Reagan legacy.

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  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    The Tea party crowd has never been more than a tiny minority of the Republican base funded by a number of Republican front groups to jump up and down and make a lot of noise. Their visibility is entirely a media manufactured phenomena because they want conflict and horserace stories and the tea party crowd provided it. They have no coherent program but then neither does the GOP at present. Of course they are going to disappear when the public tires of their antics as they appear to be doing and the media rushes onto the next obsession (that would be the oil spill in the gulf) that they can bloviate about.

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  21. [...] up Lindsey for the far right to crucify with their usual far right class.  Few conservatives have the courage to admit that Lindsey is right.  But then again, the whole idea is to spend the weekend beating up [...]

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