Friday, Aug. 26, 2011 | 3:39 p.m.
During an appearance before the Sun City Conservatives group on Thursday night, Sen. Dean Heller fielded a question from a woman frustrated that blaming the Tea Party is common in Washington and has risen all the way to the White House: even Vice President Biden, she complained, had called Tea Partiers “terrorists” earlier this month.
Heller agreed that Democrats seemed to blame the Tea Party for everything -- and then elaborated, by employing a bit of poetic license.
“They’re blaming the Tea Party for the earthquake...and they’ll be blaming the Tea Party for the hurricane that’s coming their way,” he said, to cheers.
Heller’s hyperbole aside, the debate over what the Tea Party's role in the Republican Party is raging as fiercely as a hurricane.
Sen. Harry Reid has offered a variety of adjectives to describe the Tea Party, including “unreasonable,” “radical,” “unrealistic” and “extreme,” and has said he believes the Tea Party as a political force will “fade away”.
Republican leaders have refused to criticize Tea Party members in their ranks in recent months, though the divisions in their caucus were apparent during the debt ceiling debate.
Those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party can’t seem to square whether they’re being scapegoated or influential.
“There are 535 members of Congress. There are what? 70 of them, probably more like 50 of them, that are actually Tea Party,” said Jerry Littman, complaining that blaming them for holding up the business of the country was ludicrous. Littman was at a Tea Party event Thursday night in Las Vegas.
But Dan Hickey, a member of the Clark County Republicans, noted even the rules the House Republicans adopted for the 112th Congress reflected Tea Party influence.
Recent polls show the public souring on the Tea Party. Last year, about 18 percent of Americans had a negative view of the Tea Party. This spring, right after the government shutdown debate, that number had inched up to about 30 percent. Now, 40 percent of Americans think the Tea Party is a bad thing, and only 20 percent support it.
(That is, however, still higher than the public’s approval rating for Congress, which is hovering around 14 percent.)
The Tea Party’s got a similarly negative outlook when it comes to the rest of the political establishment -- even the Republicans. During the debt ceiling debate, national Tea Party leaders voiced their disapproval, saying “maybe we should see about a different speaker” and that House Speaker John Boehner “has to go.”
But right now, Heller’s enjoying a warm reception from the Tea Party in Nevada.
Art Gisi, vice president of the new “Grass Roots Tea Party of Nevada”, suggested that if Mark Amodei wanted to do right by the Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District -- should he win -- he should just “talk to Dean Heller.”
Heller, like Amodei, came out of the state Legislature with a moderate voting record, having supported certain tax increases as a state Assemblyman in the early 1990s, and defending that record when he ran for Congress in 2006: “there is nobody in the race who didn’t raise taxes,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Since joining Congress though, Heller has taken a harder line on taxes, voting against most legislation that includes tax hikes, speaking out against ending tax breaks for the wealthy or oil companies (explaining that those are effectively tax increases), and signing Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform pledge,
Amodei is coming under fire from Democratic candidate Kate Marshall for supporting a billion-dollar tax increase during his tenure in the state Senate. He’s campaigning on a no-tax platform, and signed Norquist’s pledge last week.