What’s the role of the tea party and religion in the shutdown showdown?

The looming government shutdown—particularly because it involves a standoff over an additional Republican rider that would defund Planned Parenthood—is presenting … Continued

The looming government shutdown—particularly because it involves a standoff over an additional Republican rider that would defund Planned Parenthood—is presenting the American public with a window into the real priorities of the tea party. The standoff is a call for the newly elected tea party members to put their cards on the table: Are they really a new breed of pragmatic libertarian fiscal conservatives focused on cutting the budget? Or are they mostly a new flavor of socially conservative Republicans?

The current standoff provides an opportunity for the tea party to be the disciplined voice that keeps the Republican Party from being distracted by ideological battles when significant budget cuts are on the table. After all, funding for Planned Parenthood represents a miniscule part of the budget cuts being discussed. Moreover, there is evidence, based on data from the Guttmacher Institute, that defunding Planned Parenthood would actually cost the government $174 million more per year as those Medicaid-eligible women would be forced to seek services at more expensive clinics.

Tea party caucus leader Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) flip-flop on this issue illustrates the bind many tea party supported candidates must feel. Just last month, Bachman appeared on a webinar sponsored by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List and declared that she would fight “eyeball to eyeball” to keep the rider to defund Planned Parenthood in the budget bill, saying, “The next time we vote on the continuing resolution we have to insist on defunding ‘Obamacare’ and defunding Planned Parenthood…. My opinion is there is a point where you draw the line in the sand and you have a hill where you die on. I think this is our issue.”

But just last night, Bachmann reversed herself in an interview with John King on CNN, saying, “Well, my opinion is this. I think that we should have clean bill that makes sure that the paycheck gets to the troops on time.”

Bachmann’s waffling on this issue, and the lack of a clarion call from the tea party to have a clean budget bill, may be because tea party elected officials grasp a complicating truth: rank and file tea party members are not libertarians but social conservatives.

Heading into the elections last October, Public Religion Research Institute released data from our American Values Survey that showed that Americans who identify with the tea party do not fit the libertarian mold tea party elites use to describe the movement. We found nearly half (47 percent) of rank and file Americans who consider themselves part of the tea party movement also identifying with the Christian right movement. In fact, this revelation led to the coining of the term “Teavangelicals” by David Brody at Christian Broadcasting Network.

Moreover, we found that on hot-button issues, Americans who identify with the tea party are not libertarians favoring limited government involvement and maximum personal liberty. Instead, they are much more socially conservative than the general public: less than one-in five support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and nearly two-thirds of those identifying with the tea party movement say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

The structure of the current government shutdown—with real budget cuts on the table attached to social issue riders—presents the tea party caucus with a challenge. It will demonstrate just how real the libertarian fiscal conservative rhetoric is; and if others follow Bachmann’s latest move to call for a clean bill with no riders, it will test the willingness of a socially conservative rank and file to see one of their prized social issues sacrificed. This struggle between rhetoric and reality is sure to be a persistent defining feature of tea party politics this year and through the 2012 election season.


Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
  • foofoofoo

    Guttmacher Institute is “a semi-autonomous division of Planned Parenthood,” so they have a conflict of interest.

  • Peter29

    Of course the issue is that Planned Parenthood is more effective than any other organizations in reducing unwanted and unsupported pregnancies. It does 99% of that without resorting to abortions. There is no other comprehensive organization that can step in to replace them in addressing this issue. Imagine our future if we lose the ability to control unwanted, unsupported pregnancies amoung our poor and downtrodden? Think of the costs to our future if our population is flooded with children whose parents did not what to have them, but they were never offered alternatives to conception. Forget about the relative small number of abortions that reduce unwanted pregnancies and think about the huge number of unwanted conceptions that can be avoided. Even the most radical pro-life person can see the absolute necessity in our government supporting Planned Parenthood as an essential investment in our future.

  • eezmamata

    The tea party wants to impose christianity on everyone, their own brand of christianity – what a surprise. I’m shocked (roll credits from Casablanca).

    I remember having conversations here on the WAPO with people claiming to be libertarian tea party conservatives, I asked them about this issue, that social conservatives – the most anti-freedom and anti-liberty Big Government jerks we have – I asked them about these people infesting the tea party, were the libertarians aware of this, were they willing to crap on their own principles of personal liberty and freedom in exchange for the support of the evangelicals?

    Most of them said this wouldn’t be a problem. So, libertarian tea partiers, where are you today? Did you really expect this would go any differently than it has?

  • MrMeaner

    If you want to kill your baby, pay for it yourself.

    Why would you force people to fund what they believe is murder?

  • MrMeaner

    No Christian wants to impose their beliefs on you.
    Why do you just make things up?

    And why do YOU want to fund Planned Parenthood?

    You really are a closet lefist, aren’t you?

    You pretend to be conservative, yet you’re in favor of spending money to abort children. Why is that?

    Are you lying about being conservative, or are you just fond of killing babies?

  • eezmamata

    You are a retard. There really isn’t anything else need be said to such perfect examples of the condition as is seen in you.

  • Carstonio

    “Social conservative” is technically accurate but too broad. In my experience, both the Christian right and the tea partiers seem to want to reverse the 1960s, particularly the changes that increased opportunities for women and non-whites. The people who deride health care reform as free health care for the “welfare class” seem to be generally the same ones who rant when store clerks don’t wish them Merry Christmas, or who complain more about discrimination when the targets are whites or males or Christians. Rather than labeling this as outright racism or sexism, I see it as reactionary defensiveness borne from a worldview of authority and hierarchy. I know many people who descended deeper into that defensiveness after the 2008 election, as if seeing a non-white as President was like their world had been turned upside down. I hadn’t heard the term “Fox Geezer Syndrome” until recently but I was already familiar with the mindset.

  • elderbetty

    Carstonio, yours is the only sane post on this thread.

  • elderbetty

    Let me say outright I am not in favor of abortion. But I imagine you were wholeheartedly in favor of Bush Jr’s Iraq war? You who are so opposed to murder, that was murder. Bush’s war killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s. Men, women and children. And silly boys continually clamor how they won that war. And yet since Bush sent American soldiers into Iraq to topple Saddam, no American person of importance has flown into that country without it being a secret. I would love to see Bush or Cheney or Rummy or Rice walk down mainstreet in broad daylight without military escort. I do wish the right would be consistant in their hatred for murder.

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