TENSIONS are emerging within the Republican Party after victory in last week’s US mid-term elections.
Candidates backed by the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement have begun to flexing their newfound muscle.
Republicans are being urged to stick rigidly to a set of principles drawn up by a Tea Party support group, FreedomWorks. The principles, which include tough spending cuts and the repeal of President Barack Obama’s health reforms, appear to allow no room for compromise by the Republican Party’s incoming House of Representatives speaker, John Boehner.
In a memo sent to newly elected Republicans, FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey warned that repeal of Mr Obama’s healthcare laws was “non-negotiable”.
He told the group of more than 30 Republicans who won seats in the House of Representatives with Tea Party support that they faced being ousted at the next election if they failed.
“Politically speaking, your only choice is to get on the offence and start moving boldly ahead to repeal, replace and defund Obamacare in 2011, or risk rejection by the voters in 2012,” Mr Armey wrote.
Mr Armey is a former Republican majority leader who heads FreedomWorks, a financial backer of some of the grassroots Tea Party groups that started last year in opposition to the Obama administration and government bailouts during the recession.
Instead of starting their own political party, the Tea Party movement intends to “co-opt” the conservative Republican Party, according to FreedomWorks campaign director Brendan Steinhauser. A set of principles pushed by FreedomWorks and its Tea Party supporters are not inconsistent with the general direction of the Republican Party.
But demands from outsider Tea Party supporters such as Mr Armey are making the Republican establishment nervous about the prospect of a backdoor takeover. An influx of about 30 new Tea Party-backed Republicans, who will take up their seats in January, is nonetheless being welcomed by the Republican leadership because of the energy they injected to the party during the election campaign.
In another sign of an attempted Tea Party push for power, Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann is lobbying to become the No 4-ranked Republican in the house as the party’s conference chairwoman. Ms Bachmann, a serving member who claims to have Tea Party support from more than 50 serving and newly elected members in her caucus, is a conservative from Minnesota who advocates no compromise with the White House.
At this stage, Ms Bachmann is not believed to have the numbers to win against the Republican leadership’s preferred candidate for the No 4 position, Jeb Hensarling from Texas.
But her public campaign for the role underlines internal stresses for the Republican Party as it determines whether to accept Mr Obama’s offer of compromise over tax cuts, spending cuts and minor modification of his health laws – or demand a total presidential backdown.
Meanwhile, outgoing Democrat house speaker Nancy Pelosi appears determined to hold onto her party leadership role by running for the position of minority house leader. Several Democrats have urged Ms Pelosi to step aside.
Commentators have suggested her ideologically Left position might not help Mr Obama in a quest to find common ground with Republicans.