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Tea Party rally

Today, Democracy Corps is releasing findings from focus groups with evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans. Our conversations with these Republicans help explain why the GOP is committed to shutdown politics — and why in the future, its leaders likely will move more deeply into intransigent far-right conservatism.

While moderate Republicans want their leaders to seek what they call “middle ground,” they form only one quarter of today’s Republican voters. The most conservative factions in the party — evangelicals and Tea Party adherents — now comprise more than half of Republican partisans. These folks do not worry that Republican leaders’ intransigence has led to this kind of shutdown politics in Washington. Instead, they worry that current Republican leaders are too compromising:

The problem is there’s not a party that thinks like us. We don’t have a voice in Washington. Or where else? The Republican Party? They might as well just have a D beside their name, as far as I’m concerned.  (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

I don’t have a party anymore. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

And the Republicans – a lot of Republicans are just RINOs – Republican in name only. But we’ve really got to turn this ship around, or we’re in deep doo. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

Above all, they think that the Republican Party has proved too willing to “cave” to the Obama administration’s agenda:

They cave all the time. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

They’re rollovers. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

They turn to the Tea Party because it gives them hope that someone is finally “standing up” and “fighting back” against the forces of Obama and big government.

Well, I would say, the rise of the Tea Party, that people are getting involved, and they’re standing up… Grass roots. I’ve never been really into politics. And I’m getting more involved. And people I think are standing up. Like you were talking gun control. People are saying hey, this isn’t what’s in our Constitution, and it’s not what’s in our schools. And I think people are taking a stand now, and we need to, before it’s too late. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

America is rising back up and getting a backbone again, and making our voices heard one way or another, whether it’s Tea Party, or whatever else. People are being emboldened.  (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

They are a group to be reckoned with, because if we’re going to turn things around, The Tea Party’s going to need to be part of it. And less government and less spending, and throw the rascals out – to quote Ross Perot – is what they’re all about. I’m there.  (Evangelical man, Roanoke)

I would say that our greatest strength is…we do have a lot of rednecks in our country, and we have a lot of people who are stepping out and saying things now.  (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)

As a result, they believe that the Tea Party should form the new core of the Republican Party.

I think [the Tea Party] is good [for the Republican Party.] I think that the rest of the GOP needs to get on board. We need to all agree on some of the basic stuff. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

I think it’s a good thing, because [the Tea Party represents] core Conservatives…So you’ve got the Republicans against the Conservatives, and they said, “You need to be more Conservative if you’re going to win the elections and get more people.” (Tea Party man, Raleigh)

These voters — a majority of Republican partisans — do not want their leaders in Washington to work for compromise. Instead, they support the kind of strong-arm government-by-threat-and-fiat that finds us now in a government shutdown — and possibly also heading for a default on the country’s debt. In the future, this majority looks to move the GOP farther to the right. It will do so at the expense of moderate and center-right voters, but in the interim, we should not look for more moderate Republican leaders to step forward to broker pragmatic solutions.

Read the full Democracy Corps report here.

Photo by ArtByHeather/Flickr

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