There is no doubt that Republicans have come out the winner in the 2010-midterm elections. Or better said, have come out the winner-s.
In what the New York Times called “one of the largest House shake-ups of the last 50 years,” the House of Representatives hemorrhaged Democrats on Nov. 2 while Republicans gained 60 new House positions, switching the chamber’s power over to the GOP to the tune of 239 seats (a majority comprises 218).
There is a crucial difference, however, between the beating the Democrats received in 2010 and the one they got from Republicans back in 1994: The Tea Party.
The formation of the grassroots and largely fragmented Tea Party movement in late 2007 helped to mobilize large swaths of voters to elect Republicans in the past election; it also splintered the right like no other movement has in recent history. Yes, it is true that Republicans now make up 55 percent of the House. It is more correct, though, to say, “55 percent of the House seats are not Democratic” than it is to say, “55 percent of the House now belongs to a united conservative front.”
With a substantial amount of Republicans in Congress now flying the banner of the Tea Party, the currently ruling party is now split between the center-right, moderate Republicans and the farther-right Tea Party members. This split is not without consequence. Even before the 112th Congress will meet as a sworn-in body in Jan. 2011, there is speculation that Republicans will not able to form a united body in the House.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, contributor Robert E. Lighthizer exposed one of the early signs of internal division. The expansion of free trade with other nations, which he describes as “one of the few places where they [Democrats and Republicans] can work together, is already gaining opposition among Tea Party sympathizers,” where he cites that 61 percent of those sympathizers thought that free trade policies have hurt the US.
Even within the Tea Party, there is hardly any unity. The New York Times Caucus blogger Micheal D. Shear detailed how, on the issue of foreign policy, many Tea Party candidates had not furnished even the semblance of a unified platform:
Opinions about foreign policy range from severely isolationist to unapologetically assertive of America’s role in the world. And in between are many candidates who appear to have spent little time at all thinking about such issues.
For Republicans, who have traditionally been more hawkish for a longer time than their Democratic counterparts, it would be hard to reconcile the Tea Partiers who want a quick withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of small government and those who propose a more aggressive strategy in the Middle East as an extreme expression of protecting America’s interests.
So what now? This may be tough news for the triumphant Republicans: before working with embattled Democrats across the aisle, they will have to compromise among themselves to get anything out of their House majority. But then again, this process of compromise could be exactly what makes it.
Vicente Patino is a sophomore architecture major.
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