Rasmussen announced yesterday that Americans agree with the tenets of the Tea Party movement more than with President Obama “on most major issues” by 48%-44%. Additionally, The Hill reports that 40% of Tea Partiers identify themselves as Democrats or Independents.
This is hardly surprising in the wake of the healthcare bill’s unpopularity, and it reminds one that there is something of a divide within the Democratic Party as well as the GOP. Though most Conservative commentators will say otherwise, this leftist divide isn’t necessarily good for Republicans.
If the president is smart, he’ll take advantage of these Tea Party Democrats and Independents and give dissenters like them a voice in his administration. Rather than enjoying a cabinet full of liberal ideologues who echo his own views, he should use moderate and disgruntled Democrats to his advantage by allowing them a place at his table.
As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it worked for Ronald Reagan, who was criticized for grouping moderate Republicans with movement conservatives in his own senior staff. He explained the arrangement this way during a 1981 press conference:
QUESTION: There have been specific reports that your Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are not getting along and that they argue in front of you. Can you comment on these reports?
PRESIDENT REAGAN: The whole Cabinet argues in front of me. That was the system I wanted installed.
Presidencies have historically benefitted from internal dissensions—provided the divisions extend to those in leadership. Reagan biographer Steven Hayward writes,
In a manner that eludes many historians, political scientists, and reporters, the most successful presidencies tend to be those that have factional disagreement within their inner councils, whereas sycophantic administrations tend to get in the most trouble. Fractiousness in an administration is a sign of health: the Jefferson-Hamilton feud in Washington’s administration, the rivalry within Lincoln’s cabinet, and the odd combination of fervent New Dealers and conventional Democrats in FDR’s White House provided a dynamic tension that contributed to successful governance. (The Age of Reagan, p. 9)
Of course, the Democratic members of a single grassroots movement can hardly be expected to change the course of an entire political party—at least not at first. These Tea Party converts, however, combined with the President’s plummeting popularity, do present him with an interesting opportunity. If Hayward’s historical analysis is correct, President Obama might very well benefit from the Tea Parties by offering them his ear.
I doubt he will do so, and that may be just as well; as a conservative, I am eager to see him leave office. If he even appears to shift to the Right, his approval ratings will probably increase. I don’t want that to happen – and, for now, neither does much of the rest of America. ‘