The government shutdown in October last year was pretty gloomy for economic confidence. Gallup's economic confidence index fell to a dire -39 during the shutdown, the lowest it had been since 2011, although happily it bounced back pretty quickly once House Republicans yielded and raised the debt ceiling:
But now with the victory of Tea Party-backed economics professor Dave Brat over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this week, many are wondering whether a resurgent Tea Party will spell more obstructionism.
The Week's own Paul Brandus argues:
[I]f you think Barack Obama has trouble dealing with House Republicans now, you haven't seen anything yet. Not only is the GOP favored to pick up an additional five to eight House seats in November — adding to its 233-199 majority (there are three current vacancies) — it could also pick up four to eight more Senate seats. A gain of six would give the Republicans a majority. Believe it or not, the next Congress could be even more obstructionist than it is now. [The Week]
That means that more government shutdowns — over ObamaCare, federal spending, or immigration reform — in Obama's final two years in office are a very real threat. While the last shutdown didn't last long enough to result in a recession or a default on government debt, the Tea Party may feel emboldened to push things further this time.
While the Tea Party might be able to mobilize its base to great effect in gerrymandered Congressional districts, the country as a whole isn't buying their message. Only 22 percent of Americans said they supported the Tea Party in May, the lowest number since the movement started in 2009, according to Gallup. Even Republicans are losing their taste for the movement, with just 41 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners claiming to support it.
Meanwhile, Americans are becoming more liberal on a host of issues. And the entry of the millennial generation into the electorate is fueling that shift. In 2010, Pew found that two-thirds of millennials favored a larger government with more services over a cheaper one with fewer services. And while large majorities of older and middle-aged Americans favored repealing the Affordable Care Act in late 2012, millennials favored expanding it, by 17 points.
Now, self-identified conservatives still outnumber self-identified liberals, but the gap is narrowing. Republicans and the Tea Party aren't going to be able to win forever by pushing harder to the right. In the more liberal country that America is becoming, the Tea Party's political menu of Know-Nothing anti-immigrant fervor, continuous re-investigations into Benghazi, government shutdowns, Voter ID laws, and Ayn Rand fetishism will appeal to a smaller and smaller base.
Of course, a Republican victory in 2014 doesn't require Republicans to win a majority of the national electorate. Thanks to gerrymandering and the structure of American democracy, the Republicans can win even while getting less votes. That's what happened in 2012. In the House election that year, Republicans took 58,228,253 votes, while Democrats took 59,645,531 votes. Yet Republicans took 234 seats to the Democrats' 201.
But in the long run, this is surely electoral suicide. Tea Party-supporters are largely over the age of 45, with many over the age of 65. While thousands of millennials are joining the electorate every day, a majority of Tea Partiers are reaching the age where they'll soon be leaving it. Perhaps millennials' views will change as they grow older, but if I was a Republican strategist, I wouldn't count on it.