Jim Lee: Self-inflicted wounds hurt GOP

For all its whooping and hollering about "taking back America," the tea party movement since its inception has done nothing except gain a reputation for its uncanny ability to shoot itself in the foot.
The fight over the debt ceiling and government shutdown is just the latest example. Reasonable Republicans finally appear to be working with reasonable Democrats to find solutions to the budget problems, but the approval ratings of the Republican Party have plummeted since the tea party-manufactured crisis began, and an opportunity to highlight failures of that one government thing they hate the most - Obamacare - slipped away in the process.
Worse, Republicans appear poised to hand the Democrats another free pass for the 2014 elections.
It is the 2012 presidential election all over again. Back then, President Barack Obama and the Democrats blamed Republican obstructionism for the continuing sluggish economy and lack of jobs, but polls early on suggested Republicans could easily overcome that and grab the White House. Instead, tea party activists lampooned the best candidates for supposedly not being ideologically pure enough to fit their narrow mold, and their constant foot-stomping about health-care reform made eventual primary winner Mitt Romney twist so much that voters had no choice but to re-elect Obama for a second term. The tea party, and some of its bizarre candidates, also cost the GOP control of the U.S. Senate in 2012, something the party is still paying for today.
Throughout the current crisis, we've heard time and again from Democrats that Obama's election to a second term is affirmation that the public wanted health-care reform, but I suspect it had more to do with the public not wanting what has emerged as the current version of the GOP in any type of leadership position.
And remember that "grand bargain" deal that Obama struck with House Speaker John Boehner back in 2011? While there are conflicting reports on why that deal collapsed - with each side blaming the other - even some Republicans say it was pressure from tea partiers in the GOP that assured the plan's destruction.
In fact, whenever it looks like we might actually move forward on some major national issue, it is the tea party contingent that seems to be sabotaging the results, most often to the detriment of the Republican Party.
Its latest tantrum about not funding the government unless the Affordable Care Act was repealed produced just another self-inflicted wound and gave the Democrats yet another free pass.
If they hadn't shut down the government, Republicans could have basked in front-page and prime-time news coverage of problems that arose when people began signing up for the health exchanges Oct. 1. The problems encountered by the system, both at the national level and here in Maryland, didn't get as much play though, because all the attention was focused on the government shutdown.
And what did the GOP get in return? A Gallup poll out Wednesday showed that the percentage of people who held a favorable view of the Republican Party dropped 10 percentage points - to 28 percent - since September. The tea party's claim to victory? According to Gallup, this is the lowest approval rating for either party since it began taking the polls in 1992.
Despite assertions from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and other tea drinkers, the American public does not want the Affordable Care Act repealed. In fact, while many people are concerned about the law, in poll after poll they overwhelmingly opposed the tea party antics that brought about the government shutdown. If Cruz and other tea partiers were right, those poll numbers viewing the party favorably would be soaring to historic highs, not sinking to historic lows.
And now, having lost the battle to defund Obamacare, some Republicans want to continue their foolishness and demand a delay in making people sign up. If the health-care law is so bad, wouldn't you want more people to have to sign up, and wouldn't you want the current deadlines kept in place? That way, dissatisfaction, if you are correct in your assessment, will be higher when the election rolls around next year and you are more likely to get votes. Delay implementation until after the election and you are losing one of your biggest weapons.
But the strategy shouldn't come as a surprise. This group is, if nothing else, a master at finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If ever there were an argument for gun control that Republicans could support, it would be that fewer guns might make it more difficult for tea partiers to keep shooting themselves in the foot.

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