When Does a Compromise on Tea Party Values Become a 'Betrayal'?

This was the image sent out by the MN Tea Party Alliance in reference to Congressman Tom Emmer's vote to re-elect John Boehner as Speaker.

This was the image sent out by the MN Tea Party Alliance in reference to Congressman Tom Emmer’s vote to re-elect John Boehner as Speaker.

“Tom Emmer betrays conservatives on day one.”


That was the subject line of an email sent out Wednesday by the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance in reference to the freshman congressman from the state’s Sixth District. Emmer this week filled the seat previously held by Michele Bachmann.

[Voters] put a man in office with the expectation that he would fight for smaller government and more liberty. However, in his first real test vote as a conservative, Tom Emmer voted wrong and against the wishes of his conservative base by voting for John Boehner as Speaker.

Similar condemnations and recriminations crisscrossed social media like missiles exchanged in a nuclear apocalypse. The ruckus was not contained to Minnesota. Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) was compelled to issue a statement rebuking detractors of his vote for Boehner. He described a hopeless scenario wherein the speaker could not have been removed:

… there were never enough votes to oust Boehner to begin with. On top of that, some people who had publicly said in the past that they wouldn’t vote for Boehner did just that. This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand [from participating in a previous coup attempt in 2013] that is no way to fight a battle. This coup today was bound to fail. And in fact, it failed worse than I expected, falling 11 votes short of deposing the Speaker. At least two years ago we only failed by six.



Congressmen Raul Labrador and Mick Mulvaney boast gold-star records on the FreedomWords scorecard, yet have been tarred "traitors" for voting to retain Boehner.

Congressmen Raul Labrador and Mick Mulvaney boast gold-star records on the FreedomWords scorecard,
yet have been tarred “traitors” for voting to retain Boehner.

Mulvaney objected to the notion that his vote indicated a lack of conservative principle:

… the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles. All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record. It is one of the most conservative in Congress. And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling. If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.

Among those listed by Mulvaney, Labrador (R-ID) also took to social media in defense of his vote for Boehner:

In 2013, I led the effort to oust Speaker Boehner from his leadership post. At that time, we had sufficient votes to be successful, but at the last minute several members changed their votes to support Boehner.

This year was different – even after 25 Republicans opposed the Speaker, we still needed 12 more votes. The votes were simply not there to defeat the Speaker. I think it is unwise to marginalize yourself when there is no chance of victory, which was the case today.


For this, Labrador was castigated in comments, called names best not transcribed here, and – like Emmer – tarred a “traitor.”


Labrador’s strategic analysis of the situation was echoed by Minnesota state Senator Branden Petersen, generally considered among the most libertarian anti-establishment members of his caucus, who abandoned political convention to speak out in defense of Emmer. He wrote:

Tom Emmer cast the only vote that made sense. Absent a challenger to Boehner, it is absurd to think that he would strip himself of all credibility with the power structure in the House in order to “make a statement.” Let’s be clear, the only outcome was that John Boehner was going to be elected. Let us suppose that he and others did vote someone/thing other than Boehner, then what? A second ballot is what happens. AND.. eventually Boehner would be elected. Except now Emmer used his first vote to burn all bridges but NOT in favor of a better Speaker candidate, but in favor of NO alternative. There was not a better candidate for Speaker that actually DID THE WORK to campaign for Speaker.

Each of these men accurately portrays the strategic context of the vote for speaker. Indeed, there was no viable alternative to John Boehner. There was no serious campaign to offer such an alternative. And with nothing to gain, there was little rational incentive to provoke Boehner by voting against him.



Yet, many among the grassroots of the party remain unmoved by those facts. The question everyone ought to be asking, regardless of where they stand on the vote to elect Boehner, is how we got to this point. How did we get to the point where the Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., is so far afield from the grassroots of the party that activists expect and demand a coup, even a futile one?

The fact is that activists have been beleaguered for far too long. Cycle after cycle, we’ve been told to hold out for the next election, to help gain or expand majorities, and patiently wait until Republicans gain complete control of everything. Yet now, after House Republicans gained their greatest majority since World War II, Boehner and his allies have resolved to ignore and marginalize “the fringe guys.” As a result, activists stand more desperate than ever and have little patience for strategic excuses.

Our liberties are under perpetual assault, our future earnings and those of our children are being squandered by out-of-control spending, and next to no one seems willing to do anything about it aside from give speeches and ask for money and votes. After years of kicking the can, the narrative that we need to win elections has lost its potency.

Members like Mulvaney, Labrador, and Emmer stand unequipped to deliver much change. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. That’s the excuse offered. But their message falls on deaf ears because it’s that very context which grassroots activists are fed up with hearing.


Ultimately, the blame for this moment of chaos within the party begins and ends with the leadership. In an effort to secure power for power’s sake, they have completely lost touch with why they were sent to Washington in the first place. For that reason, appeals to electoral strategy will continue to meet defiance from the grassroots, because activists don’t care whether people who won’t fight for their values get elected or not.

See also from Michael Walsh at the PJ Tatler: Boehner: ‘I Am Not a Squish’


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