Just how safe are those tea party House Republicans, anyway?

A supporter of President Obama holds a placard blaming the tea party for the government shutdown Tuesday in front of the White House.
(Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

It is an oft-noted truism that the tea party Republicans who have already engineered the partial government shutdown and are now threatening to let the country default on its debts have the full support and enthusiasm of constituents in their carefully drawn, politically homogenous districts.

They don’t have to worry about getting tossed out on their ears come the 2014 midterm elections, goes the thinking, and so they will pay no political price for their intransigence and the House will remain in Republican hands.

But is that really true?

Some, perhaps in grip of wishful thinking, are beginning to suggest otherwise.


Public Policy Polling (which just released a hilarious poll finding Congress is less popular than toenail fungus, zombies and the IRS) conducted a poll for the liberal political group in a handful of swing districts and discovered in theoretical matchups between current representatives and generic “Democrats” that the Republican majority in the House was vulnerable.

According to PPP, which looked at 24 competitive Republican-held seats in 10 states, 17 could potentially swing to Democrats, delivering a House majority to the party.

But critics pounced on the pollsters, noting that the conclusion was not much of a surprise, considering PPP did not bother to survey districts where Democrats are considered vulnerable to Republican challengers. Harry J. Enten, who blogs about polling, said the poll was a thinly veiled attempt to invigorate potential Democratic candidates.

Still, the intraparty tension plaguing the Republicans is starting to take a toll in some home districts.


The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker visited a conservative congressional district in Michigan and found that its hard-charging tea party congressman, Rep. Justin Amas, may be wearing out his welcome in establishment Republican circles.

“Within Grand Rapids’ powerful business establishment, patience is running low with Amash’s ideological agenda and tactics,” Rucker wrote. “Some business leaders are recruiting a Republican primary challenger who they hope will serve the old-fashioned way — by working the inside game and playing nice to gain influence and solve problems for the district. They are tired of tea party governance, as exemplified by the budget fight that led to the shutdown and threatens a first-ever U.S. credit default.”

The money quote came from Meg Goebel, president of an insurance agency and the former chairwoman of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce: “People used to say, ‘I don’t like the Congress, but I like my congressman.’ I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

This week, Foreign Policy columnist Daniel Altman suggested [registration required] that the internecine struggle plaguing the Republican party could be exploited for GOP gain, but only if the party is willing to execute a purge of its tea party radicals.


“In the long term, establishment Republicans in Congress might wield more power if they expelled the far-right group from the party,” wrote Altman. “This would be especially true if, after doing so, they seized the opportunity to move their party closer to the center …. The expulsions would be a political earthquake, a dramatic move whose repercussions would capture the attention of Americans for weeks on end.

“A reinvigorated Republican Party, under the banner of centrists like [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie and [Ohio U.S. Sen] Rob Portman, would no longer have its low-tax and small-government messages polluted by anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor rhetoric. Such a party might even gain enough seats in swing and Democrat-held districts to replace the far-right votes it had lost.”

Of course, it’s way too early to know how the current debacle in Washington is going to affect congressional races next year.

As my colleague Cathleen Decker reported today, most veteran political analysts doubt the GOP will lose its House majority, “despite the fevered predictions of some.”


Still, a girl can dream ....

More from Robin Abcarian

Partial roof collapse at Tustin blimp hangar 2nd incident in a week

Shutdown: Americans prefer zombies, hemorrhoids, IRS to Congress


Twitter: @robinabcarian