FLETCHER, N.C. (AP) — Tea party activists, once unquestioned as a benefit to the Republican Party for supplying it with votes and energy, are now criticizing GOP leaders at seemingly every turn.
They’re demanding that Congress use upcoming budget votes to deny money for implementing President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, even amid warnings that the strategy could lead to a government shutdown. They’re upset that Republicans didn’t block a Senate-passed immigration bill. And many are outspoken opponents of any U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than 7 in 10 self-identified “tea party Republicans” disapprove of the job performance of GOP congressional leaders. Many of the major tea party groups are backing 2014 primary challengers against Republicans the activists deem too moderate, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky conservative who once declared it his job to make Obama a one-term president.
That leaves some Republicans quietly worried that an intraparty tussle could yield a repeat of 2012, when conservative candidates lost winnable Senate races and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney struggled through the primary and general election campaigns to win over conservatives while still appealing to moderate swing voters.
The health care debate puts the GOP in its tightest spot, with the wary Republicans recalling the 1995-96 shutdowns under President Bill Clinton, who persuaded many voters to blame Republicans and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, for that budget impasse.