We hear it in virtually every speech, debate, and vote: “The 2010 election was a mandate to ___________ (fill in the blank).
Well, in fact it was not! There was not a public outcry or carte blanche given to the Tea Party to legislate the fiscal, social or taxation issues they now so vigorously pursue. The 2010 election was not a landslide for the Republican Party in terms of eligible American voters; nor did an overwhelming number support the Tea Party. Additionally, the election certainly did not revolve around the many issues the conservatives now claim they were “mandated” to deliver. Moreover, subsequent events have pretty much erased whatever “mandate” now is being claimed.
Starting with the raw numbers in that election, only 41% of all eligible voters even turned out for the midterm election. Given that about one half (or close to it) were Democratic votes, that leaves only about 20% of the American public who overtly supported the Republicans. And only a portion of those GOP votes were for the Tea Party hard right positions. Hardly a “mandate”!
Additionally, while it is true the GOP won a substantial number of new House seats (Democrats retained control of the Senate), many of the most vociferous hard core Tea Party candidates lost. Three most prominent were Joe Miller beaten by Lisa Murkowsky as a write in candidate in Alaska; Sharron Angle who lost to Harry Reid in Nevada; and Christine O’Donnell who lost in Delaware.
Even the most ardent and beloved Tea Party candidates had close (or not overwhelming) races. The darling of the Party – Michele Bachmann – won in Minnesota with 53% of the vote; this after it was reported in the local press: “Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann was re-elected in Minnesota's 6th congressional district, ending the nation's most expensive U.S. House race. Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite, won a third term after raising more than $11 million and spending at least $8.8 million”.
In fact, Bachmann never had large victory margins. In 2008 she won with only 46% of the vote (in a three way race) in a conservative district that McCain won with 53% of the vote. She garnered just 50% of the vote in 2006.
Of even greater importance, the 2010 race was definitely not about the social and fiscal issues so dear to the heart of the Tea Party folks. For those who have election amnesia, it was about….jobs! Job, jobs, jobs, and the economy. That was the central issue to that election, and the Tea Party benefited from public discontent on the progress of the economy and growth of new jobs. They also benefited from Democratic malaise, low turnout, and highly efficient organization -- not from a powerful endorsement of their extreme positions. However, after they won, and later unfolded their true and larger agenda, for the most part their proposed programs now have been rejected by the public.
The Paul Ryan plan to dissolve Medicare was so vehemently rejected, the GOP could not run away from it fast enough. Cuts in Social Security are equally disdained (though not some tweaking to strengthen its longevity). Governor Walker and his conservative cohorts in Wisconsin are in the process of being recalled. In fact, on most of the extreme social issues the Tea Party stands for, the American public has little or no interest in pursuing, embracing, or adopting hard right wing programs.
A June 2011 CBS/New York Times poll proves the point. The economy is still the primary concern of Americans, with 53% listing it as number one. Regarding the just resolved debt/deficit clamor, only 7% rated it a critical issue; and big government (the centerpiece of the Tea Party program) rates only 2% as a major concern. Concerning the aforementioned Social Security issue, the poll indicates that while 33% would not want to raise Social Security taxes, 56% would take a tax increase to “keep benefits where they are”. As for performance on the economy, the hard right House has produced no jobs bills at all this session, opting instead to tilt at windmills engineering new and fruitless legislation regarding their social programs.
Also current polling shows a whopping 82% of Americans disapprove of Congress (including a 72% disapproval of the Republican House); and waning support for the Tea Party itself. It must be asked, is there then really a “mandate” for the changes the hard right proposes? The answer has to be “no”!
Mandates are ephemeral and usually a transitory phenomenon. I have lived to see 13 presidents: 7 Democratic and 6 Republican. The American public is loath to vest any political party with too great power, or too long a tenure. And rightfully so. For the Tea Party to claim such endorsement or enduring mandate is purely a myth; and the events of 2012 may yet tell a different story.