What Rick Santelli Was Talking About

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 16 2014 10:05 AM

What Rick Santelli Was Talking About

104656498-cnbcs-rick-santelli-speaks-at-tea-party-a-panel
It's the redistribution, stupid.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images the New Yorker

If it's a day of the week ending in "Y," it's time for another media take on how "the Tea Party's" 2014 challenges are fizzling. This isn't an especially helpful frame for reading the elections anymore, because the "establishment" has agreed to meet the Tea Party on all of its demands. Hell, I'm in a state where the big "moderate" candidate, who allegedly defended the theoretical increase of taxes at some point, maybe, is denying that and getting cover from Herman Cain.

I just see one problem with this NBC read on how "the establishment" is winning.

One, establishment Republicans took their challengers more seriously and did oppo on them as if they were Democratic opponents. Two, the issue that animated the Tea Party base more than any other -- the debt (remember, that was Santelli’s rant; not health care) -- just doesn’t seem like a crisis anymore. The deficit controls that have been put into place over the last two years seem to have satisfied a significant chunk of the GOP base.
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Rick Santelli's rant was not about the debt. Go on and check the transcript—the word "debt" never appears in it. Nor does the word "deficit." Santelli did say that the "silent majority" believed "you can't buy your way into prosperity," but what animated him was the Obama administration's idea of using TARP funds to help homeowners modify their mortgages. In the CNBC host's words, this was a scheme to "subsidize the losers' mortgages."

Now, was anti-debt sentiment part of the Tea Party's agenda? Of course it was, and its ire was focused, in early days, on TARP and the $787 economic stimulus package. But anger at redistribution was the spark that set off Santelli. It's weird how easily we forget that.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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