The tea party movement is a loosely organized band of activists, and Democrats argue that its re-emergence ultimately will mean trouble for Republicans.
“Its policies and the politics of confrontation and gridlock . . . are out of favor with the American people,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Republicans also have another potential threat: Themselves.
“People may be starting to use the I-word before long,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., referring to impeachment. At a news conference Thursday, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., surrounded by tea party leaders, said that when she goes home, “There isn’t a weekend that hasn’t gone by that someone says to me, ‘Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren’t you impeaching the president?’”
A lot of Republicans are trying to squelch such talk. “I will even give the president the benefit of the doubt on some of these things,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In the House, Reps. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sander Levin, D-Mich., jointly wrote the IRS expressing outrage.
At this point, though, the array of controversies, particularly the IRS issue, is a godsend for vulnerable GOP candidates and Republican leaders.
“It hits at the heart of who we are as a people, and why we fight for justice and fear such a large, powerful government that clearly has become too big to manage,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, seen as susceptible to conservative challenges as he seeks re-election next year, appeared Thursday at Bachmann’s news conference.
“This is runaway government at its worst. Who knows who they’ll target next,” McConnell warned before leaving quickly.
Democrats already faced trouble holding onto a Senate majority next year. They have to defend 21 seats, while Republicans have 14 to defend. All eight races considered tossups are seats held by Democrats, most in the South or the rural West.
Already, potentially tough Democratic challengers in West Virginia and South Dakota have opted not to even make the race. Earlier this week, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat who three times had won the state’s at-large House seat, decided not to run. Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds is now seen as a strong favorite.
In Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and Iowa, the IRS controversy could make it even harder for incumbent Democrats. They already are fighting the big government label, and though their statements of outrage about the IRS scandal are often stronger than those of the White House, Republicans at the moment have gained a fresh, powerful talking point.
Democrats think the improving economy will ultimately decide the political fates next year. But for now, Republicans are joyful.
“These controversies unite the Republican factions,” said Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report. “The one thing that can unite a party is a common enemy.”