By Jenny Beth Martin, Co-Founder, Tea Party Patriots
(This column first appeared on Politico)
Paul Ryan is not the right man to assume the House Speakership—and anyone who believes he is just doesn’t get it.
In fact, anyone who believes Ryan is the right man for Speaker simply has no idea why we in the Tea Party movement feel like the Republican Party has betrayed us, no understanding of what’s motivating the GOP primary electorate’s embrace of outsider candidates and no clue how to fashion a strategy that re-unites all the factions necessary to build a winning Republican coalition for the crucial 2016 elections.
Ryan is a nice man, but he does not reflect the conservative base of the modern GOP. Long before there was a Tea Party movement, Ryan opposed a Balanced Budget Amendment, which would have forced Congress to keep its spending in check. He voted for No Child Left Behind, the disastrous take-over of America’s education policy by D.C. bureaucrats. And he voted to create the prescription drug coverage program known as Medicare Part D—the largest expansion of the federal government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
As for the specific legislative fights that led to the birth of the Tea Party movement? He was on the wrong side, right from the start: He voted for TARP, the AIG bailout and the GM bailout. More recently, he was John Boehner’s handpicked salesman for “comprehensive immigration reform” (read: amnesty for illegal immigrants) to the House GOP Conference—a job he did so well that Democrat Luis Gutierrez, the top amnesty supporter in the House, has endorsed Ryan for speaker.
What’s at least as offensive as his voting record is his reported attitude toward the job: Media accounts indicate he’ll only consider taking it if he has to make no promises to any of his colleagues about how he would run the House and can be elected by acclamation.
“No promises” equals “no change.” Without change, we’re just pouring old wine into a new bottle. Election by acclamation speaks of the arrogance of the Republican establishment that led to the current turmoil. But that’s no surprise—Ryan is as much a part of the House GOP leadership as you can get without actually having been selected for an elected leadership position.
Ryan is the last of the three so-called “Young Guns” who were supposed to “shake up” the GOP … along with Eric Cantor, and … Kevin McCarthy. Ahem
Twenty years ago, I was a loyal cog in the GOP machine in my home county, in a suburb of Atlanta. I knocked on doors, organized literature drops and ran phone banks. I served as the GOP district vice chairwoman, I worked as the Bush-Cheney 2000 county chairman and I went to Florida to help in the recount. I believed the GOP would work to make government more fiscally responsible and more accountable to the people it serves.
But throughout the Bush presidency there was a growing split between the inside-the-Beltway Republicans I encountered from time to time and the Republicans I knew and worked with back home. Washington Republicans showed little desire to reduce taxes, reign in government spending and increase personal freedom. Their emphasis instead was on the pursuit of power for power’s sake and what we now refer to as “crony capitalism”—the use of government to reward political friends. It increasingly appeared that the differences between inside-the-Beltway Republicans and inside-the-Beltway Democrats were much smaller than the differences between either of them and the rest of us outside the Beltway, who pay for them to be there through our taxes.
When CNBC’s Rick Santelli launched his famous rant against the bank bailouts on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in early 2009, his remarks set off a firestorm on email and social media. Within 24 hours, from my kitchen table, I began planning Tea Party rallies. We were surprised to learn that in city after city, rally after rally, we had underestimated the depth and intensity of the support for our actions. Rally crowds were massive, far beyond our expectations. Everywhere we turned, it seemed, people who had never before gotten involved found themselves self-deputizing as leaders of a rally here or a new group there.
The Tea Party movement was born, and we threw ourselves into working as hard as we could to elect genuine conservatives to represent us in Washington.
I remember the joy of election night 2010, when we helped deliver the biggest electoral drubbing of Democrats in generations. I remember the excitement as we congratulated each other for the change we had helped bring about, proof to us that the system still worked, that committed and informed citizens could still defy the odds and make a difference.
That was five years ago. In the years since, I—and many others like me, inside the Tea Party and out—have come to believe we were taken for fools.
Prior to the 2010 election, GOP leaders including John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, among others, saw fit to make promises it would later become clear they had no intention of keeping in a campaign platform they labeled “The Pledge to America.”
Ryan wasn’t there with them at the announcement, but he helped write the document’s preamble, and was on cable TV the next morning, touting the new Pledge. To this day, his official House website hosts video of him promoting it.
“In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent,” read the 21-page campaign platform. “An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws, without accepting or requesting the input of the many.”
Sounds like a recent statement from the members of the House Freedom Caucus, explaining their beef with the current House Republican leadership, doesn’t it? That’s no coincidence. The agenda that “The Pledge to America” outlined was designed to satisfy Tea Party demands. The pledge included promises to repeal and replace Obamacare; to maintain the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers; to cut taxes for small businesses; to roll back spending to 2008 levels; to increase transparency by putting all legislation online for at least 72 hours before bringing it to the floor of the House; and to require that lawmakers cite the specific constitutional authority for any piece of legislation, among other proposals.
Based largely on those promises, millions of grassroots conservatives and millions of Tea Party supporters worked hard to elect Republicans in 2010. The result was the largest Republican seat gain in the House since 1938. We delivered on our half of the pledge.