Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the
Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more
profoundly than at any time since the GOP's eclipse in 1932. That's bad
The crackup isn't just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.
Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue
payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond
the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly
Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can't
keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he
And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana's Richard
Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus
primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently
misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.
Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the
Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea
Partiers really are and where they came from.
The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.
As Michael Lind has noted, today's Tea Party is less an ideological
movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority --
predominantly Southern, and mainly rural -- that has repeatedly attacked
American democracy in order to get its way.
It's no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the
most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of
the Confederacy. Of the Tea Party caucus, 12 hail from Texas, seven
from Florida, five from Louisiana, and five from Georgia, and three each
from South Carolina, Tennessee, and border-state Missouri.
Others are from border states with significant Southern populations
and Southern ties. The four Californians in the caucus are from the
inland part of the state or Orange County, whose political culture was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the
This isn't to say all Tea Partiers are white, Southern or rural
Republicans -- only that these characteristics define the epicenter of
Tea Party Land.
And the views separating these Republicans from Republicans elsewhere
mirror the split between self-described Tea Partiers and other
In a poll of Republicans conducted for CNN last September, nearly six
in ten who identified themselves with the Tea Party say global warming
isn't a proven fact; most other Republicans say it is.
Six in 10 Tea Partiers say evolution is wrong; other Republicans are
split on the issue. Tea Party Republicans are twice as likely as other
Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and
half as likely to support gay marriage.
Tea Partiers are more vehement advocates of states' rights than other
Republicans. Six in 10 Tea Partiers want to abolish the Department of
Education; only one in five other Republicans do. And Tea Party
Republicans worry more about the federal deficit than jobs, while other
Republicans say reducing unemployment is more important than reducing