Tea Party dissidents among Congressional Republicans have proved a challenge for leaders in both houses ever since the conservative group helped the GOP in the 2010 election. But that challenge has not been limited to the halls of power in Washington; the group is also making their presence known in statehouses across the country.
On Wednesday, many observers were surprised when a large number of Republicans sided with Tea Party activists and decided to de-fund an alternate engine which had been proposed for the F-35 fighter jet. The surprise was because the engine had been supported by House Speaker John Boehner, in whose district the engine would have been built. House speakers do not usually lose control of their membership, but Tea Party dissidents wanted to remove the item from a budgetary bill for this year because the engine was considered unnecessary by the military – and therefore an unnecessary expense by the Tea Party.
Earlier this week, fiscal conservatives, led by the Tea Party, forced Boehner to make much deeper cuts in the budgetary bill than House leaders had earlier proposed. That put Boehner in the unusual position of defending cuts he had not recommended – and, when he was asked about potential federal job losses as a result, Boehner drew harsh criticism for his response: “So be it.”
But GOP leaders in the House are not the only ones having trouble with the Tea Party. In the Senate, the activists have targeted three well-respected and veteran GOP senators for defeat in 2012. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Orrin Hatch of Utah, all face Tea Party challenges in their home states by candidates the activist group feel will be less willing to work with Democrats, as all three GOP senators have done.
Far away from Washington, Tea Party leaders in Colorado are pushing a hard-line social conservative to replace the state chairman of the Republican Party, Dick Wadhams. This is apparently due both to Wadhams’ dismal record of electing Republicans in the state, and his neutral stance on pro-life (anti-abortion) positions taken by the Tea Party.
And in Texas, House Speaker Joe Straus, a conservative Republican, is being challenged by an equally conservative state representative who is backed by the Tea Party. The political battle has heated up along ethnic lines because Straus is Jewish and some of those opposing him have circulated emails implying the legislature needed a “Christian conservative” leader.