The Day the Tea Party Grew Up
How John Boehner convinced skeptics that a political victory could be principled, too.
One by one, the conservative stalwarts of the 112th Congress ascended a small stage and rallied their soldiers. Mike Lee! Rand Paul! Jim DeMint! Louie Gohmert! Steve King! Behind them: an impressive arrangement of the American flag and the Capitol dome. In front of them: about three dozen Tea Party activists, plus an equal number of reporters.
The size of the crowd was less important than the message: Hold the line. This was a cross-Tea Party, cross-conservative movement event to make sure House and Senate Republicans did not relent in pressing for the "Cut, Cap, and Balance" plan, which passed the House but failed in the Senate. Oppose the Boehner plan, the compromise. Do what RedState, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Club for Growth are telling you.
Or, you know, don't.
"Imagine having to negotiate with Barack Obama!" said Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., a confirmed "no" vote on the Boehner plan, banging the podium with his hand. "Imagine having to negotiate with Harry Reid! Give John Boehner, give Eric Cantor, all the credit in the world. But embolden them! They need your help, we need your help."
They need help? Walsh made it clear that he was telling the crowd to stick with Cut, Cap, and Balance, but this was not the language of a conservative putsch. Not far away, presidential candidate Herman Cain was talking to supporters and reporters. (He would not speak at the rally, because of concerns over it becoming a "campaign" event.) What did "hold the line" mean to him?
"Don't raise the debt ceiling," he said. "Don't raise tax rates. To me, that's holding the line. Now, whichever one of these plans does that, that's fine."
Even Cut, Cap, and Balance raised the debt ceiling, though, and he supported that. Did he fully oppose the Boehner plan? After all, it would cut spending, schedule a vote on a balanced budget amendment, and create a committee to fast-track painful reforms— possibly Medicare cuts.
The Boehner plan "doesn't go far enough," he said.
Would he challenge Boehner's leadership over the deal?
"No," he told reporters.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Herman Cain by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.