In many states primary elections in the coming months will determine which Republicans will be on the ballot in November. Across the country, Tea Party Republicans are running against incumbent Republicans, claiming that they are not conservative enough. Who are these Tea Party candidates and what do they believe? Who is the Tea Party?
Chris McDaniel is running against Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi. Cochran has represented Mississippi in the US Senate since 1978. McDaniel is a lawyer who has been in the Mississippi state senate since 2008. McDaniel’s website offers familiar conservative Republican positions. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately, lower taxes, repeal regulation. He is against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and government support for renewable energy. He supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and using the debt limit to force deep spending cuts. He hates the idea of gay marriage. McDaniel supports the Personhood Amendment saying that life begins at fertilization, which would mean banning certain popular contraceptives, such as the IUD and the pill. These are typical Tea Party positions.
His website doesn’t mention McDaniel’s support for racists in Mississippi. He has welcomed the Twitter support of someone named R.R. Smith, who is a white supremacist and antisemite. He gave a speech at a neo-confederate event, where another speaker claimed Lincoln was a Marxist.
After claiming on Facebook that $2 billion were wasted in the $5.5 billion Katrina disaster relief bill, McDaniel has retreated, first into ignorance (“I don’t know enough about it.”), then into a complete about-face, with his campaign spokesman saying he would have supported it. He has blamed gun violence on hip-hop and said that waterboarding was a “fairly humane form of torture”, and therefore a good idea.
Another Southern Tea Party candidate was Dean Young, who was defeated in a special election in Alabama in November by the more establishment Republican, Bradley Byrne. Young had been unable to identify the Republican House whip or the Secretary of the Treasury, and questioned President Obama’s birthplace. He focused his campaign on attacking homosexuality, claiming that gays in Alabama must have come from somewhere else, like California. He said, “We are witnessing the end of a Western Christian empire.”
Young claimed falsely that he was a Navy Seal, that he was “youngest platoon leader in the Air Force,” (the Air Force doesn’t have platoons), and that he owned multi-million dollar businesses. He said he would “under no circumstance” vote to raise the US debt limit. In the election, Young was defeated by only 5 points.
Perhaps the most significant Tea Party challenge is to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky by Matt Bevin, a millionaire businessman. Bevin’s most recent campaign ad also opposes raising the debt limit. Bevin criticizes McConnell for supporting the 2008 bailout of big banks, although in 2008 Bevin supported that policy himself as a millionaire investor who stood to profit. Bevin is in favor of a flat tax, cutting off all federal benefits to undocumented immigrants. He opposes “all tax increases” and any restriction on types of guns or ammunition that citizens may buy. Like McDaniel, he opposes “any judicial nominee who will not interpret the Constitution as originally conceived by our Founders”. Since the Constitution explicitly accepted slavery, it is not clear where he would find acceptable nominees.
Dr. Greg Brannon is a Tea Party candidate trying to become the Republican nominee to challenge Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina. In October he said food stamps were a form of slavery. He also said that “all ten of Marx’s planks of communism are law in our land today.” That idea is promoted by a website named criminalgovernment.com, which labels the American Bar Association, the Democratic Party and the Republican National Committee as anti-American. In October, he co-sponsored and spoke at a rally organized by the League of the South, which favors secession of the former Confederate states. He opposes “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
Tea Party candidates are challenging virtually every top Republican leader in both houses of Congress. They advocate extreme positions. They promise to cut taxes and significantly reduce spending, but offer in the speeches and on their websites no clear path to accomplishing that. They certainly would cut large pieces from the safety net that keeps the poorest Americans from hunger and homelessness, and reduce the environmental regulations that prevent pollution of our water, air and food.
Their ideas in fact reflect the broader ideology of the most conservative Republican voters. These older, overwhelmingly white evangelical Christians fear modern life. They believe America is in a downward spiral toward socialism. They fear minorities. They hate President Obama and a Democratic Party whom they suspect of pandering to those minorities with welfare to win votes. They distrust scientists who study evolution and climate change. They think that gay marriage represents the end of Christian civilization. Although they don’t like the beliefs of most other Americans, and despite every poll, they believe their views are shared by most Americans.
These candidates represent the broadest challenge to incumbent Congressmen and to the direction of modern American politics. This electoral year will say much about our future.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 4, 2014