The headline of Jake Sherman’s story at Politico is “Republicans line up to rip Michele Bachmann.”
Rep. Bachmann (Minnesota) and four other Tea Party conservatives ( Reps. Trent Franks [Arizona], Louie Gohmert [Texas], Thomas Rooney [Florida] and Lynn Westmoreland [Georgia]) in the House had sent a series of letters raising the alarm about Muslims and Arabs in government who might be, they said, distorting American policy to favor terrorists. The evidence was, uh, weak, and the racist overtones were fairly obvious. Senator John McCain denounced the accusations on the Senate floor. Jake Sherman details many other Republicans leaping at the chance to distance themselves from Rep. Bachmann and, less explicitly, the Tea Party she claims to represent. Remember that Bachmann is leader of the House Tea Party caucus.
The first wave of Tea Party activism in 2009 featured a diverse collection of grievances, some rooted in social conservatism and others in a fairly libertarian critique of big government and taxes. Over time, politicians like Rep. Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum worked to emphasize the socially conservative elements of the Tea Party, leaving the libertarians and real limited government folk on the outs. And from the start, there’s been a streak of racism and xenophobia in the Tea Party, more visible in some of the grassroots groups than in the most visible national groups (but take a look at Tea Party Nation). Indeed, some grassroots activists worked hard to keep the racist signs from decorating their rallies.
Rep. Bachmann’s national audience and her prodigious fundraising ability gave her something of a protected status within the House Republican caucus, even–as is now quite clear–many of her Republican colleagues were uncomfortable with some of her politics and the image she presented of their party. Certainly, politicians like Michele Bachmann can win Congressional elections, but it’s not clear that a Republican Party like Michele Bachmann can maintain a majority in the House of Representatives. Many Republicans doubt it. And even the most socially conservative and xenophobic Republican needs to demonstrate extraordinary faith to believe that such a posture could govern for long a country whose population is changing.
As David Boaz, the certifiably conservative executive vice president of the Cato Institute put it (in Politico’s Arena, July 19):
If the Republicans want only straight white Christian men to vote for them, they’d better figure out a way to make more straight white Christian men.
Republicans who were interested in winning elections–and/or those who were offended by the racist streak in the movement–were eager to try to scratch off someone they view as a political liability. It’s going to take much more, however, to make this stream of the Tea Party go away.