There have been a lot of comparisons between this election and the one in 1994, when Republicans swept into office and took control of the Congress midway through Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post writes that there is one major difference: The GOP had adults in the room back then.
When Republicans gained control of Congress 16 years ago, the revolutionaries were eventually convinced by their leaders to cut deals with President Bill Clinton, leading to milestone achievements on the budget and welfare reform.
But there is no Bob Dole in the Republican leadership today; there isn’t even a Newt Gingrich. There is nobody with the clout to tell Tea Party-inspired backbenchers when it’s time to put down the grenades and negotiate. Rather, there are weak leaders who, frightened by the Tea Party radicals, have become unquestioning followers of a radical approach.
Ronald Reagan, head of a revolution that bears his name and which continues to be invoked today, was able to work with House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill (pictured above) as president to accomplish things for the greater good. Milbank doesn’t see history repeating itself.
The difference now is that, particularly on the Republican side, there are no authority figures to say “no” to the angry, the rude and the violent. With a House leader determined not to compromise, and a Senate leader whose top national priority is the defeat of the president, things won’t get any better after Tuesday.
Frank Rich of the New York Times sees the influence of the tea party a little differently.
What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most — less government spending and smaller federal deficits — is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.’s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries. The party’s principal 2010 campaign document, its “Pledge to America,” doesn’t vow to cut even earmarks — which barely amount to a rounding error in the federal budget anyway. …
For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. … What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.