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As Tea Party Reshapes GOP, Cheer and Worry

Grass-roots movement pulling Republican debate to far right

Image: Dozens of Tea Party supporters rally near the U.S. Capitol against raising the debt limit in Washington
New face if the Republican Party: Dozens of Tea Party supporters rally near the U.S. Capitol against raising the debt limit, July 27, 2011. (Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

By Charles Babington

Aug. 5, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Tea Party is here to stay. The 2-year-old phenomenon’s muscular role in the debt-ceiling crisis made that clear, despite earlier predictions it would fade away when the national furor over health care cooled down.

Now the GOP establishment wonders if the grass-roots movement will power Republicans to new victories in 2012, or dash them on the rocks of unbending ideology.

One thing is obvious: The Tea Party already is reshaping the Republican Party. Once-moderate lawmakers are shifting sharply right, fearing primary challenges more than Democratic opponents. And most GOP presidential contenders have positioned themselves to the right of party leaders, and even some House tea partyers, on the debt-ceiling issue. …

With the Tea Party about to play its first role in a presidential election, mainstream Republicans hope to harness its energy in campaigns nationwide, as they did in 2010. …

Veteran elected Republicans with mainstream conservative histories have gotten the message. Some are virtually reinventing themselves as Tea Partyers. …

The big unknown is the Tea Party movement’s influence on the presidential race. Some political professionals think tea partyers already are pushing GOP candidates so far right that the eventual nominee might struggle to pick up independent voters in the general election against Obama. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared unenthusiastic when announcing his opposition to the debt-ceiling compromise that Congress enacted with solid GOP support in both chambers.

Jon Huntsman, the only presidential hopeful to support the measure, said Romney did not show leadership. …

A CBS News/New York Times poll this week shows that only 20 percent of Americans and 41 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the tea party, down from 26 percent and 59 percent, respectively, in April. Just 18 percent of Americans now view themselves as Tea Party supporters, compared with 31 percent who did immediately after the November 2010 elections. …

Either way, the tea party is leaving a big mark on the GOP. And the limits of its influence are not yet clear.

Full story

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Related video

Inside the mind of the Tea Party (MSNBC “Martin Bashir,” Aug. 3, 2011) – Author Stanton Peele explains how the debt debate shows the Tea Party’s influence on the GOP keeps growing. (04:05)

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Related reports on this site

Tea Party Cannibalizing GOP (July 14, 2011)

Tea Party Presidential Primary (March 3, 2011)

Defense Cuts on Tea Party Table (Jan. 23, 2011)

Tea Party Credibility Test (Jan. 16, 2011)

Quo Vadis, Tea Party? (Nov. 7, 2010)

“Rise of the New Right” — The Tea Party Movement (July 9, 2010)

Michele Bachmann’s Minnesota Tea Party (June 5, 2010)

Republican Radicalization Threat (April 17, 2010)

New York Times Tea Party Poll (April 16, 2010)

Tea Party Fomenting Rebellion? (April 5, 2010)

Michele Bachmann Heads Teabaggers (Sept. 13, 2009)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

One Year Ago — August 6, 2010

Unsolved Murder of Chris Jenkins

One year ago today, I reported that NBC Dateline devoted a full hour to the murder mystery of Chris Jenkins, the University of Minnesota student who went missing in downtown Minneapolis on Halloween night, 2002.

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Two Years Ago — August 6, 2009

Michele Bachmann’s Greatest Hits

Two years ago today, on August 6, 2009, I featured a video montage of the bizarre Rep. Michele Bachmann’s more memorable televised statements of the past year, set to the soundtrack of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.

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Three Years Ago — August 6, 2008

Campaign Against Michele Bachmann: Day 23

Three years ago today, on August 6, 2008 — the 23rd day of my 2008 campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District — I provided a forum for Sauk Rapids resident Jason Krueger, Minnesota representative for the Fluoride Action Network, to express his views on the issue of water fluoridation. I also posted a public service announcement to help draw attention to the sacrifice of National Guard citizen soldiers serving in Iraq and the families they leave behind.

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