Tisei, Baker, and the Tea Party “Smear”

Boston Globe columnist Tom Keane published a column on Tuesday, Baker, Tisei face the Tea Party smear that was premier punditry — heroes (Baker and Tisei) and villains (the Democratic Party). Personality politics entertains but the column wasn’t very helpful in examining the import of the Tea Party charge in taking advantage of the political polarization that handicaps Republican candidates in Massachusetts, so let’s give it a go.

Keane suggests that the 2012 contest between Richard Tisei and Congressman John Tierney turned on the charge that Tisei was a veiled Tea Party devotee; that calling Tisei or gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker a Tea Partier is a smear; that our state deserves some competitive life out of the Republican Party; and that Baker and Tierney, being “exactly the kind of Republicans that might offer a healthy corrective to the Democratic hegemony” – are about to fall victim to the Democratic smear machine.

The columnist strongly suggests that Tisei was cruising toward victory in 2012 “Then, out came the big gun: the Tea Party. . . . The moderate was painted as a fanatic, and Tisei ultimately lost narrowly, 48 to 47 percent.”

It’s an interesting claim except there is little evidence to support it. How do we know it was the Tea Party tarring that did in Tisei? We don’t, but it fits the column. It may have been the presidential year turnout with a ticket lead by the popular President Obama, the state of the economy, the Democratic organizational advantage, the power of incumbency, etc.; or it may have been the Tea Party charge; we just don’t know.

Now is associating a Republican with the Tea Party a smear? Keane argues that Tisei has a moderate record and compelling biography – a gay Republican – he’d be a Democrat in a lot of other states, for heaven’s sake. But he isn’t a Democrat, he’s a Republican. Tisei wants to convince Sixth Congressional District voters that he is a moderate independent – vote the man, not the party — where have we heard that before? Democrats want to remind voters that if Tisei gets to Washington he will be herded into the GOP caucus where his first vote will be John Boehner for Speaker. The same John Boehner who kowtowed to his Tea Party minority and shut down the government last fall.

By focusing on the personalities of the individuals and not discussing the institutions of the parties, Keane’s column omits the most important aspects of the challenge facing Tisei. As political scientists Jeffrey M. Stonecash and Howard L. Reiter show in Counter Realignment: Political Change in the Northeastern United States, the GOP has devoted decades to abandoning its former moderate northeastern base in favor of the South and increasingly conservative white voters. That leaves Tisei with a huge problem but it is a problem caused by his own party, not the Democrats.

No question, the Tea Party has exacerbated the difficulty. The Democrats are supposed to forego reminding Massachusetts voters that Tisei represents a political party Bay Staters regard as extremist?

I agree with Keane, Massachusetts would be a better place with stronger two party competition. I’ve often called Massachusetts a sort-of democracy for its one party dominance. But again, we’re supposed to fault Democrats? Keane on the state’s problem: “Too many Democrats and not enough Republicans.” Really? How many is too many? Maybe the Democrats could be persuaded to shed some members to serve the public good.

The Tea Party charge is more unjust to Baker than to Tisei but perhaps more unlikely to stick. Baker isn’t trying to go to Washington to join a wildly irresponsible House Republican majority, but to stay here to govern in the tradition of Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. Over the last hundred years or so we’ve had roughly equal partisan representation in the corner office. But is Baker facing an electorate anything like the ones that approved Weld, Cellucci, and moderate Mitt Romney? Or is he confronting voters who are more polarized against his party?

That is a more important topic than whether the Democrats are being mean to Baker and Tisei.




About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
This entry was posted in Mass Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tisei, Baker, and the Tea Party “Smear”

  1. Matt OBrien says:

    Professor Cunningham is correct when he points out that it is impossible to establish if or how calling candidates Charlie Baker, and Richard Tisei Tea Party devotees effected their campaigns. I could make as similar case that because they distanced themselves from the Tea Parties in MA they doomed themselves. And just because I said it won’t make it anymore true.
    But I must point out that this post is mistaken when it tries to define the Tea Party Movement in antiquated terms of race and gender politics. There is a long list of minority and women candidate that received support from the Tea Party movement.
    An example of this is Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina.
    (We could well benefit from adopting an Agenda of Opportunity in our Commonwealth.)

    • Ed Lyons says:

      Mr. O’Brien:

      Allow me to pinch hit for Professor Cunningham here with some news that may be somewhat of a shock for you:

      The Tea Party is a bunch of older, angry, white people.

      There are many studies showing this, but here’s an article showing they are 89% white and 1% black. In fact, I think only the Tea Party in Hawaii is not entirely a white-dominated movement. (I bet you and the professor didn’t know there even was a minority-oriented Tea Party movement somewhere in the US, eh? Their group pictures are awesome!)

      Sure, every once in a while there is some minority Tea Party unicorn that gets endorsed. And sometimes some chapter endorses a woman who holds their views. OK. That’s great! The Tea Party has some great, mainstream beliefs, and I support their core tenets 100%, but you absolutely do not represent America. (And once you’re off on Agenda 21, you’ve lost me.) In my experience, almost all are almost all good citizens with legitimate grievances with our large and costly government. The chapters here are nothing like the ones down South, for instance. (You would know this as you belong to the Worcester Tea Party. We have mutual friends!)

      Here’s another great finding from another massive research report on the Tea Party, nationally:

      In addition to racial animus among Tea Party sympathizers, their results of their surveys also found that “The data suggests that supporters of the Tea Party are statistically more likely to hold negative attitudes towards immigrants and sexual minorities across a range of different issues and topics, and are firmly opposed to the idea of group equality.”

      Ouch! And before you tell me this isn’t true, I can point you to the Facebook pages of many MA Tea Party people that don’t exactly… slay this point of view. (But there certainly was huge support for the Duck Dynasty guy!) This kind of culture could not be more incompatible with politics in Massachusetts. We – even we Republicans – believe in total equality in this state. Very few of your people do and that’s decisive here.

      However, do I think that the MassPoliProfs have a well-informed and nuanced opinion of the Tea Party? No, but they are much closer to an accurate depiction than your comment, which puts for the absurd idea that Tisei and Baker doomed themselves by distancing themselves from the Tea Pary. (I mean, for real?)

      But fear not! I will take issue with some of Professor Cunningham’s post in a little while in another comment.

      • Christine Morabito says:

        I’m so disappointed to hear you parrot that tired liberal narrative about the Tea Party. I would have thought you knew enough of us who don’t fit that stereotype. I take issue with that study showing only 1% blacks in the Tea Party. I had always heard it was more like 6%, although I’m not sure how you’d go about counting. We don’t exactly give out membership cards. But whether it’s 1% or 6%, does not the word “minority” imply that there will be fewer of them?

  2. Christopher says:

    Actually, the Dems could afford to shed a few members, as many of them on the flip side of the Tisei coin really should be Republicans.

  3. Chip Jones says:

    The other alternative is that we could simply acknowledge the FACTS, unlike both the author and self described “pinch hitter” for the left, Ed Lyons. The fact is that the tea party is a loosely organized group of folks who understand clearly that government regulation, strangling government control, ignorance of personal liberty and the role liberty has played in making this nation the strongest and most attractive on the planet, and the subsequent taxation it requires to operate are the CAUSE of our social problems, yet are being offered to us as the solutions.

    We only need look as far as the “Affordable Care Act” (more honestly called the Unaffordable Uncaring Act) to see what big government does to little people, and how right those “teaparty” Republicans are in Congress to oppose it, and the misery it is creating for every day citizens.

  4. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Thanks to Ed for pinch hitting for me as I was out of town for most of yesterday. I’m sure we both will be comfortable when he goes back to disagreeing with me! His views are always well-thought out and expressed.

    Matt, where did I write anything notable in this post about race and gender politics? Stonecash and Reiter are careful political scientists who among many others have noted the drift over the years to a national GOP that has become more southern, more conservative, and yes, more white. Political scientists such as Skopcol and Williamson have found the Tea Party to reflect, if anything, an exaggeration of those traits.

    We MPPs are glad to have differing viewpoints expressed and thanks to all for doing so. However, there is no alchemy by which OPINIONS become FACTS by placing them in capital letters.

  5. Jonathan Ginsberg says:

    I think Tisei or a Scott Brown or any potential “moderate” member will become nothing more than an enabler of Southern GOP/Tea Party types on both procedural and substantive votes.

    My worst case scenario for Massachusetts (or any state) is for the Governor’s office to be occupied by insurance industry special interest alumni. I appreciate that Baker is not an ideologue – and that his running mate has stepped back from her hatred of human differences (becoming pro-gay marriage). Bravo for the 14th amendment! You go, Ms. Polito!

    But, in the final analysis, I like my Governors to come from other facets of our society than insurance companies. Sorry, Charlie!

  6. Pingback: Charlie Baker’s Word Cloud |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *