GOP Leaders after the Shutdown Disaster: Can They Clean Up the Tea Party’s Toxic Spill?

Headlines and pundits are reporting that Republican leaders and the divided party are soul searching again after another Tea Party mess that alienated voters and weakened the credibility of the GOP vision for reform. But are they really going to search their political souls, as is promised, or will it be the same non-search that resulted from Romney’s defeat? The world seems to be calling for a serious self-assessment, but the GOP may not be up to the task. They may have more urgent leadership tasks as they respond to this disaster.

Their leadership vision used to be to limit federal influence, keep taxes low, and protect wealthy people and corporations as the heart of the market economy.  But that’s been co-opted by Tea Party demagogues who have taken that mission to its extreme, and more moderate Republicans haven’t stepped up to stop the madness. What evidence do we have that they care about healing their internal identity crisis, which has seeped like a toxic spill into every household and marketplace?

Trent Lott

Trent Lott

Well, some Republicans are saying that they need better, different leadership. In a recent Washington Post article, Trent Lott (R-Miss) commented, “I do think we need stronger leadership, and there’s got to be some pushback on these guys who think they came here with all the solutions.” Only then, he said, can the party begin to push an agenda and “get things done,” rather than obstruct.

The Post also reports that many Republicans have, like many Americans, given up on Washington, and are turning to the states to set things right. Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, is quoted. “Where the party goes from here is to the states. The party writ large is discouraged with Washington.”

Gillespie is putting most of his energy into the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization he heads that seeks to elect Republicans to statewide offices. And he noted that some of the party’s biggest stars these days are its governors, who are far removed from the morass in Washington.”

Ted Cruz' displaying the mask of today's tragedy at a conservative rally. Alex Brandon/AP

Ted Cruz’ ironically displaying the mask of today’s tragedy at a conservative rally. Alex Brandon/AP

It looks like new visionary leadership has to come from moderate fringes of the party, but for all the talk about needing teamwork and a clear message, reframing the battle against Obamacare and losing focus on constituents. The problem, leadership-wise, is that the Tea Party, with Ted Cruz’ leading the dogmatic, devil-may-care pack, imagines itself the visionaries. On fire with their minority mission, they don’t care if they diverge from the majority in the party, because they want to remake the party in their own image.

It’s too late for soul-searching. There needs to be a decision, from the too-passive majority of leaders within the Republican Party as a whole, and clear action to do one of three things:

1. galvanize support to dump the Tea Party agenda entirely and repair relationships with Democrats, Independents and angry Republican constituents.

2. integrate the best of the Tea Party into a broader agenda that supports action rather than obstruction

3. claim the Tea Party agenda as the current Republican agenda, and make it work with savvy political leadership that measures long and short term consequences instead of the destructive tactics used to date.

Crisis may inevitably instigate soul-searching, but the catastrophe we’re experiencing in the halls of the US government requires strategic action and collaborative leadership to do triage on the damage caused by Tea Party grandstanding. The only soul-searching I expect to see is from courageous followers, citizens who have suffered from the political deadlock. Whatever our party affiliation, we need to decide what leadership roles we are willing to take, and do something to make sure we get better service from our elected leaders.

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