Why the victory of the Tea Party extremists (backed by Big Oil) over the slightly less extreme GOP establishment (also backed by Big Oil) is good for progressives, but bad for climate and clean energy

They are beginning to resemble the bar scene from Star Wars,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn in POLITICO’s Arena, referring to the GOP candidates this year. “They are purging the conservative voices in their party who have any sort of pragmatic perspective and substituting true kooks.”

The Republican party is self-destructing, and they may well take a livable climate with them.  While the rise of the Tea Party is probably good for progressive politicians, the extreme radicalization of one of the two major parties has major downsides for Homo “sapiens” sapiens.

The Tea Party have probably cost the GOP a serious shot at the Senate this year.   It should cost the GOP the House, but that would require the country’s progressive political leaders to be much better at messaging than they are.  In the future, if the GOP can’t dump or seriously diminish the Tea Party, it will probably make it all but untenable for them to maintain majorities, except in very bad economic times.

Even the Politico, in its banner story on the election, spelled out the obvious winning message:

the Delaware results gave Democrats fresh ammunition to make the case that the Republican Party had been taken over by extremists.

In effect, Democrats now can counter the GOP’s attempt to nationalize the election around the unpopular policies of the administration and Congress by pointing to such figures as O’Donnell, Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Kentucky’s Rand Paul and asking voters if that’s the Republican Party they want to return to power.

Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and corporate polluters want to stop and then reverse all efforts to advance clean energy or avoid catastrophic global warming (see “New Yorker exposes Koch brothers“).

Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and the special interest polluters oppose efforts to preserve clean air and clean water for your children.  They oppose all policies to end our addiction to oil.  As Senate GOP candidate Rand Paul explains the Tea Party theory of governance,  “I believe business should be left alone from government.” Senate GOP candidate Sharron Angle builds on that Tea Party platform with her energy plan: Deregulate the ‘mining industry,’ as well as the ‘oil and petroleum industry’.

Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and the special interest polluters want to shut down the federal government, thereby closing our national parks, abandoning those veterans most in need, preventing oversight of offshore drilling and coal mines, and stopping research into cancer cures and solar energy.

Who can say otherwise?  Nobody speaks for them nationally — except maybe Sarah Palen and Glenn Beck.

Last night, a candidate so extreme that the head of the state party has called her a “delusional liar” and said she “could not be elected dog catcher'” — an anti-masturbation candidates so extreme, Karl Rove (!) told Sean Hannity that she says “nutty things’ beat a guy in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware who was twice governor of the state.  And this after the GOP got her former campaign manager to charge her with corruption.

She is going to lose, and I suspect that the uber-vulnerable Harry Reid is going to beat Sharron Angle, another extremist, though that election will be close.

But in the future, if the GOP can’t get out from underneath the thumb of the Tea Party, ultra-extreme Republican candidates will face mainstream progressives, when the general political environment is not so poisonous for Democrats.  And the 2012 nomination process for the GOP challenger to Obama will be fraught with land mines for non-wackos.

So the Tea Party represents the GOP’s continuing slide into permanent minority status, the party of angry, Caucasian, extremists who mainly succeed in bad economic times or when Democrats put up lame nominees who are dreadful at messaging (yes, that happens too frequently).

That said, New York Times (!) blogger Nate Silver says Republicans have a “2-in-3 chance” of taking the House — though they are, as of now, quite unlikely to take the Senate (even as they drop the Democratic total down to 52 or 53).

While I respect Silver’s election forecasting ability greatly, his political punditry strikes me is no better than average.  He thinks “Undoubtedly, in my view, the Tea Party has done the party more good than harm over the past year-and-a-half, bringing it back from what pundits assumed was the brink of irrelevance (but may instead just have been the nadir of a political cycle), to a position where they are poised to make electoral gains that could rival or exceed 1994.”  I think there is much to doubt about that assertion.  Republicans were always going to come back (given the multiple mistakes team Obama made) and be more enthusiastic than Democrats — but now they are represented by multiple unadulterated extremists and have no party unity.

Silver believes that independents can’t be moved at this point and that the Democratic base is unlikely to rally.  This is probably true (especially the former) — not because it is a foregone conclusion, however, but because Obama and the progressive leadership of this country don’t know how to do messaging, to define the Republican Party as driven by extremists who are backed by Big Oil and the special interest polluters, who support policies far, far outside the mainstream.  Yes, I know, the Washington DC Republican establishment was already in the pocket of Big Oil and the special interest polluters — but nobody was claiming that they were a genuine grassroots movement, as the Tea Party has been alleged to be.


As far back as January 2009, long before there ever was a Tea Party, I had said that while Obama’s election and his climate and energy team were 2008’s top climate story, the second was “Conservatives go all in on climate denial and delay.”

Back in July of this year, I discussed the dwindling chances for any serious action in the next few years (see “What are the prospects for comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the coming years“) on a planet where

  1. Senate Republicans are in the thrall of the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues and special interests.
  2. The media coverage of climate science, solutions, and economics isn so abysmal.
  3. The President won’t give a full-throated push on such legislation.

So what has changed?

With the loss of Castle in Delaware, every single GOP Senate candidate now either denies climate science or opposes even the most moderate, business friendly, Republican-designed approach to reducing emissions (see “Dawn of the brain-dead Senate“).  More importantly, the main difference now (with Castle’s loss and Lisa Murkowski’s) is that every potential Republican candidate for Senate — and every incumbent no matter how safe they thought their seat was — knows they must either drink the anti-science pro-pollution Kool-aid or pretend to do so.

So when precisely will there be 60 votes for a price on carbon, serious regulation of carbon or even major investment in clean energy? This isn’t a galaxy far, far away.  It is planet Eaarth.

20 Responses to Why the victory of the Tea Party extremists (backed by Big Oil) over the slightly less extreme GOP establishment (also backed by Big Oil) is good for progressives, but bad for climate and clean energy

  1. Joe,

    You’re absolutely right, assuming that the Senate rules continue as they are, but if there’s filibuster reform, as there should be, we will still have a chance at sensible climate policy.


  2. Sasparilla says:

    Very well laid out Joe thank you, this is going to be a tough decade to watch (from a climate change action perspective).

    There’s one misspelling right above where you list the reasons there was less of a chance for climate legislation, the word “planet” was spelled as “pleanut” as in “on a pleanet where”.

  3. mike roddy says:

    The biggest mystery has been the failure of Democratic candidates in the general elections to portray their Republican opponents as employees of coal and oil companies. Politicians of both parties underestimate the extent to which Americans of both parties loathe these companies.

    They don’t even have to frame this argument in a clever way- all they need do is bring it up, repeatedly. Apparently too many of them (Nelson, Landrieu) are in the trough themselves, rendering a 52 or 53 vote Senate majority meaningless.

    The Republicans and their Blue Dog friends are scheming to attack EPA, which is now the last bastion against destruction of the global ecosystem. Senators with a conscience need to draw the line here, and bring the public on board.

  4. Wes Rolley says:

    I think that I understand this. Republicans are convinced that supporting any action on climate change is equivalent to retiring from office. Democrats, then, can muddle along, kicking the can down the road because they also know that there is no political price to pay for this failure to act since any price will only elect a Republican.

    If we really want to make this Congress pay attention, then I only see two paths. Challenge Democrats in primary election… oops… too late for that… or vote Green and risk getting a Republican for the next 2 years.

    As long as there are no consequences for Congress’s failure to act there will continue to be consequences for our failure to act.

  5. Dave Romm says:

    Republicans are finally paying the price for Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of stealing the racist Thurmond/Wallace voters AND Reagan’s inventing a “Culture War” and being on the wrong side of it. The Benedict Arnold Express has empowered the nutjobs who don’t live in the world G_d made.

    We’ll see just how this plays out in November. I’m hopeful: In recent past, when voters were given the choice between a Republican and a Republican, they voted for the Republican. Now, the two choices are Loyal American vs. Secessionist and Democrat vs. Democrat. I suspect that the winners will be the Americans and the Democratic Party in all but a few hopelessly red places.

    I predict that a few nutjobs will make it in and make a lot of noise, but the Democrats and the real Republicans remaining will band together to get something done on climate change.

  6. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Dave Romm… We definitely already have more than a few nutjobs in there making a lot of noise. I think the noise is just going to get a little louder after November.

    I’m still holding out hope that Dems are going to be concerned enough with this right wing zeal to pull them away from the XBox and head down to the polls. Call me a dreamer.

  7. Rob Honeycutt says:

    The Onion…

    “This particular pink-faced half-wit is at the height of his persuasive powers,” Ellington said of the bloated, hateful multimillionaire. “By exploiting citizens’ greatest anxieties during an uncertain time in our nation’s history, the pink-faced half-wit has been able to promote his own vain, avaricious self-interests under the guise of standing up for the very disenfranchised people whom he himself is fleecing.”

  8. Peter Sergienko says:

    The Tea party candidates are extremists. They should not do well in the general election. In terms of the primary results, with maybe an exception here or there, the Tea Party candidates are demonstrably unqualified to hold the offices they seek. This means that a significant portion of the electorate is voting against education, knowledge and accomplishment. Very scary to witness this revolt against the concept of the best and the brightest. Call it the Sarah Palin effect.

    On another note, and I say this as a progressive Democrat, we’ve got issues attacking Republican party ties to the fossil-fuel industry because we have ties, too. As a big-tent party, Democrats have to deal with nuance, balance and ambiguity within, for example, labor/management relations and environmental/industry concerns in ways that Republicans do not. This tends to push that chunk of the electorate that is uncomfortable with ambiguity into the Republican tent. I think Democratic candidates have to own the ties that exist and address them as directly as they can. Because any hint of hypocrisy will be relentlessly attacked in a general election, this is really treacherous ground for Democrats.

    Finally, we desperately need a prime-time Presidential speech or speeches to change the political dynamic on global warming. Because the science is clear and the policy solutions have been kicked around to the point of absurdity, invoking reason and science won’t be enough. As antithetical as this may seem to many CP readers, I think President Obama has to talk about values and, assuming this to be true, how his religious faith and beliefs are calling him to act on this issue. As a substantive matter (disregarding messaging and media failures), proponents of action won the science and reason war a long, long time ago. We’re stalled for many reasons that have been well-documented on these pages, but we really need to take a big chunk of the values and priorities space away from opponents of action.

  9. John McCormick says:

    IF Democrats can hold majorities in the House and Senate, their majority numbers will be severely diminished while the number of nut-jobs in the House and Senate increase.

    The pressure on centrist Rs and Ds to go to the right will be greater because they are the marginal seats for the tea baggers to focus on in 2012. Rep Kirk is a good example. That is how the baggers can threaten centrist Rs with primary defeats and all-out campaigning to defeat centrist Dems (even while they have no commitment from the baggers if they do). It won’t be too long before the baggers decide to back an off the wall Dem just to affirm they are a force to be respected.

    “Either you are with us or you are toast”.

    John McCormick

  10. Peter M says:

    Peter S.

    I agree with you about the ‘dumbing down of America’. Sarah Palin represents this so well- simplistic solutions for complex problems- while denial of issues that threaten our civilization- is this really possible in America now? What happened to the attitude of JFK and the ‘New Frontier’ of the early 1960s-of the best and brightest.

    American Society- has become selfish- the Tea Party folks are an example of older white Americans who have benefited by the policies started by the Democrats- but now want no ‘new people’ who they consider ‘not American’ to receive them (Immigrants,the underclass, Gay people etc) They are very resentful of seeing a person of color as being President as well. So our wonderfully closeted intolerant society is still racist and become increasingly selfish.

    The President needs to make a speech -an urgent message about the dangers we face with AGW. History is full of great speeches that FDR made, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ urging Americans to a higher level to fight menaces of the past. Certainly AGW will be the greatest threat to human civilization. In the 20th century we face brutal World Wars- and extinction in the cold war- but AGW is a more stealth like foe
    in which we have the ability now to start change- but that element of selfishness comes into play again.

    Obama and his style of ‘cool’ and ‘low key’ might have been successful in better times- however the great challenges of this century certainly demand a leader to communicate to the public the dangers we face in a far more forceful style. Perhaps considering where we are as a society today- it may not be possible.

  11. mike roddy says:

    I don’t understand your headline. If the election of Tea Party nutters is good for progressives, why isn’t this also good for climate policy? After all, practically every Republican in Congress has swallowed the climate denial Koolaid anyway, Tea Party or not. By relaxing and letting the extreme Right take over- with backing from Koch and Exxon- won’t they and their party be discredited and marginalized?

  12. “So when precisely will there be 60 votes for a price on carbon, serious regulation of carbon or even major investment in clean energy?”

    If the economy recovers at anything like a normal pace, and if Americans give the President credit for the recovery as they have blamed him for the recession, then there could be a Democratic sweep in 2012.

    Reagan was also elected during a severe recession, he was blamed for the slow recovery during the midterm election that followed, but he got credit for the recovery during the presidential election that followed. From Wikipedia:

    In 1980, The Republicans won both majority of the US Senate and the 1980 US Presidential Election; Republican Ronald Reagan became US President …. Reagan, however, had failed to get the country out of the continued recession. Despite the fact that the Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate in the 1982 midterm elections, the conservatives (whom Reagan backed) lost a substantial number of seats in Congress. By early 1983, however, the recession had ended and Reagan was re-elected President, in 1984, with a record-breaking 525 electoral votes.

    But if the recovery makes oil prices soar again, all bets are off.

  13. Dan King says:

    No candidate is going to lose in 2010 because they voted AGAINST cap & trade.

    That says something about how successful progressive movement really is – Mr. Romm’s rhetoric notwithstanding. You’re batting .000 .

  14. Anonymous says:

    We. do. not. need. 60. votes.

    Pretending we do is harmful in many ways. It promotes despair, because we won’t get them. It prevents effective action for the filibuster reform we DO need. It allows the Overton window to decay further because there’s no pressure on the gettable votes nominally on our side.

    Joe, I’m sorry about the kerfuffle on the other thread, no hard feelings. Over there, even though I disagree with you, I don’t find your opinions harmful. And you’re right that Nader would make a horrible president, perhaps worse than any we’ve had except the guy who won. So whatever; you win that one.

    But here, you’re badly, dangerously wrong. US climate legislation is one of the more important steps we could take towards a livable world, and filibuster reform is the only tactic which will get us there. It may be an uphill battle, but not nearly as uphill as that of getting 60 votes (not Democrats; actual votes) instead of just 51.

    If you disagree, please say why.

    And please, please, stop talking about “60 votes” as if it were the goal.

  15. Michael Tucker says:

    “So when precisely will there be 60 votes for a price on carbon, serious regulation of carbon or even major investment in clean energy?
    This isn’t a galaxy far, far away.”

    That is of course the BIG QUESTION but legislation may be far, far away.

    I see Director Holdren has been speaking recently and he seems to think that we must stop using ‘global warming’ and switch to Global Climate Disruption. Holdren says, “Global warming is a dangerous misnomer.” AND “It suggests that the changes are uniform, primarily about temperature, gradual, and likely benign. None of these are true.” In fact, Holdren pointed out, the changes that are occurring are highly nonuniform, not only about temperature, occurring rapidly, and quite harmful to the environment.”

    OK. I will stop using that dangerous misnomer. Based on Director Holdren’s commitment to solving this disaster and his authority as ‘Climate Czar’ I am confident that using this new term will help to enlighten the anti-science zombies. That should do it! We should have climate legislation any day now…

    Any year now…

    Sometime before the end of President Obama’s first (perhaps only) term…

    Anyway, you can see more of Director Holdren’s comments here:

  16. Michael Tucker says:


    I don’t know any other way to change the Senate rules other than having the senators vote on a rule change when the next session of congress begins in January. If there is another way please let me know.

  17. Chris Winter says:

    Charles Siegel wrote: “If the economy recovers at anything like a normal pace, and if Americans give the President credit for the recovery as they have blamed him for the recession, then there could be a Democratic sweep in 2012.”

    This is a small step, but something.

    Budget Deficit in U.S. Narrows 13% to $90.5 Billion on Rising Tax Receipts

  18. I was quite grateful to find out that Christina O’Donnell led a campaign in her younger life designed to wipe out masturbation. This should give us all heart that there’s a battle more difficult to imagine winning than our own.

    [JR: Funny! But I think the question everybody wants to know the answer to is: “Is she master of her domain?”]

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