By JOE SCARBOROUGH | 10/21/12 12:57 PM EDT
That’s a leading question that I have been asked repeatedly from media pundits and Democratic politicians over the past three years. Over that time, Democratic politicians and media pundits have almost universally accused the Tea Party of bringing ruin to the Grand Old Party. According to this skewed narrative, Republican leaders were once bipartisan, rational and almost worthy of getting invitations to Georgetown cocktail parties. Now they are Manchurian candidates held captive by the right-wing beasts whose only goal is to infect the minds of real-life Nick Brodys who dominate the U.S. House.
Sometimes, mainstream publications and Democratic leaders even go so far as to say kind things about Ronald Reagan as a way to attack the Tea Party. They speak glowingly of Reagan and contrast him with the barbarians who now run the Republican Party. This, of course, conveniently overlooks the nasty attacks Reagan once endured at the hands of those who now cynically praise the 40th president.
But let’s not get bogged down by history. Instead, we can blow apart this fanciful meme by reviewing the Tea Party’s short history. Let’s simply review how terrible the Tea Party has been for the GOP.
— They energized a conservative movement battered by eight years of bloated Republicanism,
— they shocked the political world by taking Ted Kennedy’s seat,
— they put Obama Democrats in a constant defensive crouch,
— they led the resistance against Obamacare,
— they helped bring about the largest legislative landslide in U.S. history in 2010,
— they grabbed six seats in the U.S. Senate that year,
— they helped elect six governors,
— they helped win 700 seats in state legislatures, and
— helped elect a Republican majority that included the largest number of Republicans elected since 1946.
With a track record like that, the Republican Party had better watch their backs. If this trend keeps up, they may just win the White House and the Senate.
Regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, the general theme that the Tea Party has been bad for the GOP is pure malarkey.
CNBC anchor Rick Santelli’s 2009 rant from the Chicago Mercantile Floor created a viral video that launched a national movement that created a new focus among conservatives. Before that, Republicans had little to rally around.
Before their 2009 formation, their GOP president had just spent $700 billion baling out Wall Street. Their GOP Congress had spent the Bush years driving up the deficit to record levels. The national debt doubled during the Bush years and their so-called conservative party had shoved through a $7 trillion Medicare drug plan without paying for a dime of it.
Considering that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid had decided to accelerate George W. Bush’s reckless spending ways by passing a stimulus plan that was the largest spending bill in U.S. history, more should be thankful that a movement was launched that dared to stand athwart history and yell “Stop!”
The results of that movement have been historic, even as Democrats and the media obsess on its most negative elements. I’m not saying the Tea Party should be immune to criticism. Like most large political movements, this one has also had its share of excesses.
Sometimes the rhetoric gets too heated. At times, its members have chosen to obstruct instead of fighting for a debt deal that would solve our fiscal crisis. And the same fervor that drove Pelosi from her speaker’s chair has also managed to keep Reid in his because of some deeply flawed Tea Party senate nominees.
But, all in all, most Republicans I know prefer having the largest GOP majority since 1946 instead of Pelosi. We also liked having 700 new Republican state legislators elected in 2010, a national debate focused on less spending and a Democratic president who is now fighting for his political life.
No one knows what happens next. But, we can at least start telling the truth about what happened over the last three years. Whether opinion leaders like it or not, the Tea Party helped engineer a Republican landslide, reframed the national debate and put the president so far back on his heels that even Mitt Romney has a chance to be president.
And that in itself is pretty damn remarkable.