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Right-wing billionaires have been trying to create a group like the Tea Party for more than a generation. The goal was a movement that combined the fervor of evangelicals with anti-government populism — contagious beyond the pews.

In 2009, the inauguration of the first African-American president in the midst of the worst financial crisis in 50 years provided the opportunity for a “non-partisan” movement to rise up. The myth that the Tea Party wasn’t of, by and for the Republican Party was promoted by Fox News, which was also promoting Tea Party rallies.

The Republicans who quickly became the face of the movement — like the party’s most recent vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin — encouraged Tea Partiers to run in Republican primaries, defeating incumbents and moderates. While in 2010 the GOP won more elections than they had at any time since before the Great Depression, Tea Party candidates cost them the Senate.

In the run-up to the 2012 election, the Tea Party failed to unite behind any one presidential candidate, but they succeeded in dominating the debate, driving all the candidates to the right and convincing Mitt Romney to select as his running mate a congressman famous only for his plan to shrink Medicare. At that point, the Tea Party takeover was nearly complete, though the movement’s stars (like Palin) only played minor roles in Romney’s campaign.

After President Obama’s re-election, the GOP establishment told itself that it needed outreach, and the Tea Party disagreed.

Guess who won?

The establishment wanted immigration reform and didn’t want a shutdown. Immigration reform is barely alive and the government isn’t open. The organizing prowess of self-proclaimed Tea Partiers has given them control of the party, so much so that the Tea Party’s agenda is now the GOP’s agenda.

With the help of new research from Democracy Corps, here are five reasons why the Tea Party took over the GOP — and one reason why it will eventually tear the Republican Party apart.

Image: @RightWingWatchMA

Moderates Are The Minority

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More than half of the GOP is now made up of self-identified evangelicals and Tea Partiers.

Americans have gerrymandered themselves into blue urban areas and red rural areas so it would be nearly impossible to draw completely fair electoral maps. The New Republic‘s Nate Cohn argues that gerrymandering actually reduces the number of very Republican districts. But it’s clear that without their custom-made districts, Republicans would not have gotten 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats in 2012 yet still maintained a comfortable majority in the House. These safe districts mean that Republican congressmembers feel obligated to cater to the hardliners who make up the majority of the primary voting population.

There are moderates left in the party who disdain the Tea Party and don’t take Fox News seriously. But the problem is that there just aren’t enough for party leaders to be concerned about them.

Only a quarter of those who identify as Republicans label themselves as moderates, according to Democracy Corps. This could explain why the percentage of Americans who identify with the GOP has been shrinking steadily since the 2012 election.

In Democracy Corps’ recent round of focus groups with Republican voters, moderates were surprised and relieved to find that actual Republicans with similar, more-middle-of-the-road beliefs still existed. They still believe in fiscal conservatism, but they know they cannot sell their kids on the party as it is today.

Photo: Civil Rights via Flickr

Republicans Are Terrified Of How The Country Is Changing

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Republicans describe themselves as “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned.”

This anxiety is based in reality. Their party is out of power. They don’t identify with many of their elected officials. And they know that demographics and time are against them. Evangelicals, who are 90 percent white, especially feel that they are losing control of their country.

Nearly all Republican members of the House come from districts that are predominantly white and those are the voters they’re catering to when they shut down the government.

“They have an acute sense that they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly ‘minority,’ and their party is getting whooped by a Democratic Party that uses big government programs that benefit mostly minorities, create dependency and a new electoral majority,” Democracy Corps reports.

Conservatives have debated whether they can win the next election by courting “missing white voters,” knowing that even if that strategy works in 2016 it will likely be the last time it ever does. Despite this, Tea Partiers and evangelicals have no interest in making the sort of compromises that would broaden the base of their party. The majority of the GOP is much more interested in hunkering down and preparing for battle now.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Obama Is The Beast And Obamacare Is The End-Times Battle

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This may shock you, but Tea Partiers and evangelicals don’t like President Obama. And they think Obamacare is pure evil.

The Tea Party participants in Democracy Corps’ focus groups described the president as a “spin doctor,” “misleading,” “slick,” “slimy,” “untrustworthy,” “condescending,” and “an SOB.”

They don’t just think Obama believes in bigger government, they think he’s hiding a “darker, secret, socialist agenda.” This extreme rhetoric first arose in 2009 via Glenn Beck and other Tea Party media figures, but it’s become mainstream Republican thinking along with persistent claims that he isn’t American or Christian.

Obamacare to them represents the vehicle that will permanently institutionalize Obama’s un-American worldview, creating dependence that Democrats can feed and grow through immigration reform. This is why Senator Ted Cruz’s Defund Obamacare campaign went from the fringe of the party to being embraced by the party’s leaders in just months.

The fear of Obamacare that evangelicals share is like the fear of a Biblical plague, which is why Cruz is seen as a prophet daring to go into the lion’s den.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

Evangelicals Love The Tea Party Because They Fight

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Evangelicals feel besieged and abandoned by their party’s leadership. The fact that the GOP nominated the man who pioneered Obamacare in Massachusetts as their last nominee makes them suspicious and angry.

The only people standing up for them? Fox News, which they describe as the only network “in the middle,” and the Tea Party.

“The greatest source of hope is the Tea Party because they are standing up and pushing back,” Democracy Corps reports. “They may not agree with the Tea Party on some issues, but they share a special solidarity given how isolated they are.”

This is where the RINO (Republican In Name Only) phenomenon comes from. Anyone who isn’t either Tea Party or evangelical enough is seen as not a true Republican.

In focus groups with like-minded right-wingers, evangelicals and Tea Partiers formed instant bonds and vowed to stay in touch so they can continue “the fight.”

When Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) told The Washington Examiner, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is,” he was giving as clear a summation as possible of what the majority of the Republican Party now stands for.

Photo: Mark Taylor via Flickr

Compromise Is Caving

Marco Rubio

Have you seen this man?

His name is Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Republicans used to be so proud of him that they picked him to respond to President Obama’s first State of the Union address after being re-elected. The junior senator from Florida then made a mistake. He listened to voices in his party’s establishment who know the GOP needs immigration reform to prevent Latinos, the fastest group of new voters in America, from turning away from the party the way African-Americans have since 1964.

Rubio helped pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate and sent it to the House, where it is slowly shriveling up and dying, along with Rubio’s hopes of ever becoming president.

Compromise isn’t just a dirty word for the far right, it’s the enemy. Matt Bevin, a Tea Partier who is opposing Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a primary next year, is sending around this story that blames him for singlehandedly causing the government shutdown. This is the kind of credential that the new majority of the GOP loves.

Tea Partiers are unapologetically pro-Wall Street, pro-trickle-down economics, pro-guns. Evangelicals hate political correctness and are opposed to adapting the good, homogenous society they grew up in.

Anyone who doesn’t agree with the orthodoxy isn’t just treated with suspicion, they’re excommunicated from the movement.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

LGBT Rights Will Eventually Tear The GOP Apart

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Right now, Tea Partiers and evangelicals recognize that they have the same enemy, and that’s good enough.

However, eventually — maybe after President Obama and the Clintons have faded from the scene — there is a chasm that will emerge between these two wings when it comes to LGBT rights, specifically same-sex marriage. Tea Partiers, by and large, have a laissez-faire stance on opening the institution to LGBT couples. They believe that shrinking government means getting it out of the bedroom.

Evangelicals see same-sex marriage as a conspiracy to push “the gay agenda” that will destroy the culture.

This hints at a larger issue that could easily tear the GOP apart if Republicans ever get executive power again. Evangelicals’ suspicion of the government is largely tied to Obama. The chances of them remaining concerned about the NSA or military intervention with a Republican they trust in the White House are slight.

But this fissure will be completely neglected until the 2016 primaries at least. Today’s GOP is defined by what they oppose and that means they are united in trying to destroy President Obama, at any cost.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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