Have indignant Tea Party activists gone to battle with the newly-empowered GOP leaders in Congress over Republican refusal to drop divisive social issues from the conservative agenda? Will the powerful coalition that swept to victory in recent elections lose its fierce focus on stopping deficit spending and the relentless growth of government and begin shattering over culture war questions like gay rights and abortion?
Pundits and reporters in the mainstream media, always eager to magnify evidence of right-wing disunity, have seized upon a mid-November letter from two-dozen mostly obscure organizers to suggest that resurgent conservatives will flounder unless they turn away from the polarizing “values” debates. For three reasons, however, breathless accounts of this looming split have exaggerated its real significance and distorted its essential meaning.
First, the names attached to the “Open letter to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner” hardly represent a sweeping cross section of Tea Party leadership or membership. While a few local coordinators from groups like the Tea Party Patriots signed the document in question, the driving force behind its composition came from the gay conservative organization GOProud and its chair Christopher Barron. There’s no question that a “truce on social issues” (in the case of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels) allowed some gay rights advocates to make common cause with the Tea Party’s determined opposition to big government, but all polling showed that the vast majority of GOP voters remained deeply concerned about cultural disputes including abortion, gay marriage, immigration, multiculturalism and especially gun rights.
Second, it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who want to do battle over social issues in the upcoming Lame Duck session of Congress before Nancy Pelosi loses her liberal majority. Conservatives remain intensely determined to address the current budgetary crisis, and to prevent the scheduled 2011 tax hike from crippling the potential recovery. Democrats, meanwhile, seek to change the subject – hoping to stage a major fight over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the stalled DREAM Act to confer legal status on illegal immigrants who serve in the military or attend college. Republican reluctance to quickly capitulate to these liberal priorities hardly constitutes a new drive to refight the culture war.