The Teaparty Energized by Government Shutdown


CLEVELAND, Tenn. — “The premise was good,” said Bob McIntire, 53, an insurance executive here in deep red Bradley County, where the local Democrats would have trouble filling up a phone booth.

The payoff, well, that was the problem.

On talk radio and in the conservative blogosphere, the bipartisan vote on Wednesday to reopen the government without defunding President Obama’s health care law was being excoriated as an abject surrender and betrayal by spineless establishment Republicans. But for glum and frustrated conservative voters on Thursday around breakfast tables in eastern Tennessee, in the shadow of a military base in Colorado Springs and on the streets of suburban Philadelphia, it was as much a surrender to reality as to Democratic demands.

To Mr. McIntire, that reality was a media environment in which conservatives don’t get a fair hearing, a unified and shrewd Democratic opposition, and a Congress hopelessly compromised by Washington deal making. For Matias Elliott, a cabdriver in Colorado Springs, the reality was the harm being done to the nation’s military and to the local economy. For Jean Naples, a homemaker in Doylestown, Pa., it was the “despicable” way the shutdown disrupted funerals for military personnel killed overseas and the way her husband’s medical supply business had suffered a severe cash-flow problem during the shutdown.

Many conservatives described a dispiriting gap between conservative ideals, which they believe inspire widespread agreement, and conservative tactics, which do not. The failure to stop the health care plan left Republicans like Ms. Naples pessimistic and disillusioned. “I’m just totally blown away by everything,” she said. “I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore.”

Still, for many Wednesday night’s vote had to play out as it did, because there was no other alternative.

“The shutdown had to end,” said Andre Zarb-Cousin of Colorado Springs, who said that he believes the Affordable Care Act could destroy the country. “Who’s suffering? Veterans’ families. People being on welfare.”

Among commentators on the right, the reaction has been less driven by despair than by anger. In heated language on talk radio and on conservative blogs, many spoke of a winning if difficult strategy sabotaged in the end by weak-willed leadership.

“I was thinking about this last night, too, while I was pondering if I can ever remember a greater political disaster in my lifetime,” Rush Limbaugh said Wednesday on his radio show, “if I could ever remember a time when a political party just made a decision not to exist for all intents and purposes.”

This view of the shutdown, while infuriating to many on the right, has the virtue of being something fixable. On the conservative blog RedState, Erick Erickson said the capitulation was an urgent lesson in the need to replace establishment Republicans with true conservatives. Tea Party members here in Tennessee agreed, saying that despite the lack of policy victories by the Republicans in Congress, the shutdown had energized the base and shown them that some conservatives, like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, were willing to stand up.

“We’re just trying to make Washington, D.C., listen, and I think we did a really good job of that,” said Donny Harwood, 49, a nurse and the director of the Bradley County Tea Party.


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