By A.B. Stoddard - 09/15/10 09:56 PM EDT
Even before Christine O’Donnell handily defeated Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) in an epic upset Tuesday night, the Tea Parties, all of them, had already won. No matter what happens in the midterm elections on Nov. 2, the Tea Party has moved the Democrats to the right and the Republicans even more so, and President Obama’s agenda is dead.
Anger from disaffected conservatives who sat quietly through eight years of the surplus-to-deficit presidency of George W. Bush bubbled up immediately after Obama took office. All it took was the unprecedented $787 billion stimulus package, and before Obama could mark his first 100 days in office, a movement was born. Some of the already angry yet newly active were libertarian supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and almost all of them were fuming over the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008, the bipartisan bailout of Wall Street that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted for and that his running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), supported.
Last March, Republicans joined Democrats in calling on Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to end his filibuster against the extension of unemployment benefits paid for by deficit spending, embarrassed he was blocking aid to the jobless. But it took just three months for the grassroots pressure to reach the Capitol — Bunning was a Tea Party hero. By the time the $30 billion expired on June 2, Senate Republicans had united behind a nearly two-month filibuster of the next round of $34 billion in “emergency spending” for unemployment insurance. They were joined by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and some House Democrats warned their own leaders at the time that the days of votes on “emergency spending” would soon have to come to an end.
As of last week, before the House and Senate even reconvened, it was clear there were enough Senate Democrats joining Republicans seeking an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest earners that the Democrats don’t have the votes to pass President Obama’s permanent extension of the middle-class tax cuts without passing cuts for the top two tax brackets as well.
When Obama introduced his latest economic proposals earlier this month, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), an ally of the Obama White House, immediately put out a statement not only criticizing Obama’s newest infrastructure plan but knocking the original stimulus as well. “I will not support additional spending in a second stimulus package. Any new transportation initiatives can be funded through the Recovery Act, which still contains unused funds,” Bennet said.
Obama won’t get his infrastructure plan through the Congress, and he knows it. Next year, when he is running for reelection, tax and budget reform will be the only issues he could realistically work on with a GOP majority or a razor-thin Democratic majority. In other words, the Tea Party agenda.
The Tea Party candidates themselves — like O’Donnell, whom Karl Rove called “nutty,” — matter little. Only a few will actually get elected this fall. Yet the Tea Party has won without them. There are no tea leaves left to read. Democrats have been spooked and Republicans threatened, cajoled or cleansed. The results are already in.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.