We may be looking at a classic media-left one-two punch here. The New York Times reports that the GOP’s town hall meetings, which were part of the engine that fueled the Tea Party’s rise and helped the Republicans capture the House in 2010, have “cooled down” because Republican congressmen aren’t hosting many of them this year.
Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing Congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place.
“The whole thing is very anti-democratic, and it’s classic behavior of entrenched insiders,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group that in 2009 helped send legions of demonstrators to town halls. Now, it is trying to draw out seemingly reluctant members by staging public events like mock meet-your-lawmaker meetings with empty chairs. “We’ve lost that Rockwell image of citizen participation in democracy.”
With memories of those angry protests still vivid, it seems that one of the unintended consequences of a movement that thrived on such open, often confrontational interactions with lawmakers is that there are fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents.
Members of Congress and their aides were reluctant to talk about the lack of town halls on the record, mindful of the pressure from liberal and conservative groups alike. “Ninety percent of the audience will be there interested in what you have to say,” one Senate Republican aide said. “It’s the other 5 or 10 percent who aren’t. They’re there to make a point and, frankly, to hijack the meeting.”
There’s no doubt that accountability is out of fashion in Washington. There’s also no doubt that the Tea Party movement has matured into something that can and does operate beyond the town halls and rallies it held in 2009-2010. It has, among other things, elected dozens of people to Congress — Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to name three — and many more at lower levels. The same movement that the Times wants to believe has “cooled down” is primarying Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell right now. The movement that made the town halls so effective is now about much more than town halls.
There’s also no doubt that many Republicans don’t want to hold a town hall while the immigration bill is still hanging out there. They prefer to listen to their consultants who favor amnesty rather than listening to their angry constituents, who don’t. They don’t want to give a constituent the chance to ask if they’re one of Harry Reid’s 40 who supposedly support the Senate’s bad bill. Many also don’t want to be forced on the record regarding the fight to de-fund Obamacare.
But also, President Obama’s personal political army, Organizing for Action, has made a point to turn Republican town halls against Republicans. OfA announced in July that it would make the August town halls its moment to replicate the Tea Party’s own methods to break congressional opposition to Obama’s agenda. If you’re a Republican congressman or woman and become aware that OfA wants to turn your town hall meetings against you, you’re less likely to hold that town hall meeting. Why give your opponents the opportunity to create a viral video of you that hurts your re-election? OfA probably counted on that very line of thinking when it announced its plan to hijack the town hall meetings. It threatened to hijack the meetings to prevent them from happening at all.
Ultimately, the Obama government wins. There’s less public debate on real issues which leaves Obama a freer hand to drum up noise like his latest pivot to jobs and his global warming attacks, Congress hides from the people, and the New York Times throws the media punch against Republicans for failing to hold town halls. OfA threatens, the effect they wanted to achieve is achieved, and the media blames Republicans. One-two.