Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at his very first Tea Party rally Tuesday, the same day the Republican Party added a plank to its official platform calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban all abortions, no exceptions, as well as a plank backing abstinence-only education. The Tea Party movement in 2009 and 2010 was supposed to make fiscal issues the most important issues and push social issues to the background. It has not. The new ads released Wednesday by the presidential campaigns and the parties focus on welfare, education, and Medicare. Couldn't the Medicare issue be considered a fiscal one, because it's about spending? No. It's Mitt Romney attacking President Obama for cutting Medicare spending.
In September 2010, The New York Times' Kate Zernike reported that Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the Tea Party would help the GOP by getting it to talk more about money and less about culture. "As I’ve traveled," Cornyn told The Times, "I’ve talked to a lot of folks who are basically independents who say: I’m fine with the Republicans as long as we’re talking about fiscal responsibility. Where I go off the reservation is when you talk about social issues." This week, Cornyn unsuccessfully pushed for Rep. Todd Akin to quit the Missouri Senate race after his "legitimate rape" comments. Akin pointed to his voting record, which on abortion is perfectly in line with the Republican Party.
Last fall, Republicans feared macho Rick Perry would reignite another culture war. But Perry's campaign failed, and conservative opposition to those old tropes weakened. Though Mitt Romney picked a running mate, Paul Ryan, more known for his budget plans than his social positions, on Tuesday, Ryan was more focused on feelings about shootin things and loving Jesus than on spreadsheets. "Remember this other time where [Obama] was caught on video saying, 'People like to cling to their guns and their religion?'" Ryan asked a Pennsylvania crowd, CBS News reports. "Hey, I'm a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion!" Ryan added, "Remember the guy 'Joe the Plumber?' Remember when [Obama] said he wanted to spread the wealth around?" And who can blame him? "The crowd responded with enormous applause," CBS reports.
That would make sense. A 2011 study by Pew Research Center found that Tea Partiers "are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on these social issues." Pew found that Tea Partiers are more likely to think abortion should always be illegal than voters as a whole by 17 percentage points. They're more likely to support gun rights by 27 percentage points. They are more likely to oppose gay marriage by 15 percentage points.
Naturally, a new video from the Republican National Committee suggests that if President Obama had been in office in the 1990s, he would have never passed welfare reform. Obama has a new TV ad saying smaller class sizes help children, and accusing Romney of backing Ryan's budget plan, which "could cut education by 20 percent." ("Could" because the claim is based on unspecified spending cuts in Ryan's plan.) Romney's new ad says the president supports "Taxing wheelchairs and pacemakers!"
"I think it shows the strength of the movement that we could organize a public event drawing a lot of attention, including that of the most powerful Republican in the country," Kentucky Tea Partier David Adams said of McConnell's first tea party, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. If it's still powerful, its message is getting murky.