PBS’s Ifill: Can GOP Be Viable When Tea Party Is ‘Party of Opposition?’

On Thursday’s PBS NewsHour, anchor Gwen Ifill fed the tired old stereotype that the Tea Party ruins everything.

During a discussion about the nation’s political outlook for the coming year, Ifill posed this question to The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson:


Michael, let me ask you about this ‘alternative vs. the opposition’ language that John Boehner used. I heard Michael — Marco Rubio use it yesterday. Is that sustainable when the Tea Party is really the party of opposition?
 

Gerson, a Joe Scarborough-style conservative and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, didn’t push back against the idea that the Tea Party is simply about opposition to Obama rather than furthering conservative policy proposals. He only prattled about the differences between House Republicans and national party leaders:
 

Well, I think there’s a real distinction here between the party of Congress, where if you’re in a safe House district, you have a different political dynamic, as many of these House members do, than if you’re trying to lead a national party and to have a message on immigration or other things.
 

This may be news to Ifill and Gerson, but the Tea Party does indeed have alternative ideas. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, has come up with specific proposals on tax reform, flexibility for working families, transportation and infrastructure, and higher education reform. (He outlines his proposals on his official website.) Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) proposed a health care plan last year to replace ObamaCare. His bill was backed by FreedomWorks, a prominent Tea Party group, but it has not made it through the House yet.

Gerson also made a subtle suggestion that there is a conflict between conservative congressmen and the GOP’s ability to attract new voters:
 

So there’s a huge cleavage here. The national party, RNC, did a report last year where they know they have to appeal to minorities, women, younger voters. And they want to craft a message to do that. Members of Congress have a different political dynamic.
 

But does that different dynamic necessarily lead conservative congressmen to repel minorities, women, and younger voters? It’s as if Gerson thinks outreach equals surrender to more liberal ideas. But in the absence of a media that constantly distorts the conservative message, perhaps more of these voters would discover that conservative principles can benefit them, too.

Below is a transcript of the segment:

 

GWEN IFILL: Michael, let me ask you about this ‘alternative vs. the opposition’ language that John Boehner used. I heard Michael — Marco Rubio use it yesterday. Is that sustainable when the Tea Party is really the party of opposition?



MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there’s a real distinction here between the party of Congress, where if you’re in a safe House district, you have a different political dynamic, as many of these House members do, than if you’re trying to lead a national party and to have a message on immigration or other things. So there’s a huge cleavage here. The national party, RNC, did a report last year where they know they have to appeal to minorities, women, younger voters. And they want to craft a message to do that. Members of Congress have a different political dynamic. So some of this is — only gets resolved in the presidential primaries, where you have the emergence of a candidate that can give shape now toward repositioning of the Republican Party.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.