Why Richard Lugar defeat scares tea party Republicans, too
House freshmen elected with tea party support see a warning in Sen. Richard Lugar's heavy defeat. If they don't start making progress on the tea party agenda, voters will throw them out.
The defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana in Tuesdayâ€™s primary echoed into the lower chamber of Congress, where House Republicans tied to the tea party saw it as a warning shot aimed not only against the establishment, but against themselves.
The message: They need to raise the tea party standard even higher or face votersâ€™ wrath.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas, a freshman lawmaker elected with significant tea party backing, said â€śthe toughest question" he's asked in town halls always is: What difference have you made, Congressman Huelskamp? â€śWell, we can say we changed the debate, but theyâ€™re looking for results, theyâ€™re looking for solutions, theyâ€™re looking for actual budget cuts, and it hasnâ€™t happened yet,â€ť he says.
â€śIf we donâ€™t deliver shortly, theyâ€™re going to be asking for a new crop of folks up here â€“ I really believe that,â€ť he added at a Capitol Hill press conference.Â
Yet Senator Lugar â€“ a moderate often willing to compromise with Democrats â€“ suggested in a farewell letter that it is precisely the tea party's attitude to governing that prevents anything from being done in Congress. Taking aim atÂ winner Richard Mourdock's belief that thereâ€™s already too much compromise in Washington, he wrote: "He will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator."Â
Others echo Lugar's sentiments, saying that a doubling down on the tea party agenda could work against the desire for results.Â Â Â
â€śGridlock actually works against what they want,â€ť says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. â€śThe tea party wants a lot of change and so if they just scare people and everyone stands still and there is no compromise what the tea party is going to get is a Washington that looks pretty much the same a couple of years from now as it does.â€ťÂ
â€śSpending wonâ€™t change. Nothing happens," he adds. "Thereâ€™s a bit of an irony in them bringing things to a standstill.â€ť
Yet to Rep. Jeff Landry (R) of Louisiana, another tea party favorite, Lugar's 20-point defeat to state Treasurer Mourdock is a sign thatÂ â€śjust because youâ€™re reaching across the aisle doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re solving the problems.â€ťÂ
Congressman Landry says he often asks his town hall attendees whether they can name a single issue Congress has resolved in the last decade â€“ at time period when both parties have had time in the majority.
â€śThe question is whether weâ€™re fighting for the American people or weâ€™re fighting over the checkbook â€“ this becomes a credibility issue,â€ť Landry said at the press conference.Â
Itâ€™s clear that the activist community weighs heavy on the minds of Republican House members, said Rep. Pete Sessions (R) of Texas at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by the Monitor on Wednesday.
â€śPeople will hold us accountable for achieving things, and I think it's good for our party,â€ť said Congressman Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It's certainly a motivating factor as leaders like Sessions "look to gather votes on the floor of the House of Representatives.â€ť
But whether a tea party-infused ethos prevails in the House in the next session of Congress will hinge on the coming elections. And there, GOP congressmen say,Â the anger with Washington that burned Lugar will turn on Democrats.Â
â€śTheyâ€™re holding those seeking office accountable to a level theyâ€™ve never been held before. If you canâ€™t respond to that and be responsive, you might find yourself in trouble,â€ť said Rep. Greg Walden (R) of Oregon at the Monitor Breakfast. â€śThey are going to have that same energy double when it comes to the fall. If you think theyâ€™re holding us accountable, wait until they get a choice between Democrats â€“ and following President Obamaâ€™s agenda â€“ versus Republicans.â€ť
Until then, conservative lawmakers are going to bear their tea party standard even higher.Â
â€śWe shouldnâ€™t carry of banner of pale pastels but of bold colors, which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on the issues,â€ť said freshman Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) of South Carolina, quoting President Reagan, at the press conference. â€śWe are unabashed of that conservatism and we donâ€™t mind talking about that. Hence, weâ€™re here.â€ť