The tea party is alive and well in today’s GOP

If you thought the Republican base was angry before, get ready for what could be a very interesting August recess.

new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Republicans and GOP-leaning independents are increasingly unhappy with their party's leadership -- a fact that should matter plenty in the looming debates over immigration and the debt ceiling.


Protesters at the National Tea Party Convention in February 2010 (AP)

Overall, a majority of Republicans -- 52 percent -- say they are unhappy with their party's leadership. That's 20 points higher than it was before the August 2012 Republican National Convention and 10 points higher than it was in late 2009, as the tea party movement was getting off the ground.

And, increasingly, the unease spans all segments of the party.

According to the poll, 53 percent of Republicans who identify as "very conservative" say GOP leadership is taking the party in the wrong direction. That's up significantly from August 2012, when 26 percent of "very conservative" Republicans said the same.

While unhappiness with the GOP leadership used to be higher among more moderate Republicans and those who identify as "somewhat conservative," the distaste with the party leaders is now universal, with at least 48 percent of all three major groups -- moderates, "somewhat conservative" Republicans and "very conservative" Republicans -- now unhappy.

(Moderates remain the most unhappy, at 59 percent, but the "very conservative" base isn't far behind.)

What does it all mean?

It means Republicans seeking a way forward for their party have little to guide them. If they go more moderate, they will mollify that element of the party but inflame conservatives. If they go conservative, moderates will continue to disassociate themselves with the party.

Neither is clearly a better outcome. While the middle is where national elections are won, most Republican House members only have to worry about their primaries, in which conservative voters determine their fate.

It's all a reminder that, while the tea party's membership and activism has waned in recent years, its anti-establishment (and, more specifically, anti-GOP establishment) roots are still planted firmly in the Republican Party's base. And there's actually reason to believe that sentiment is on the upswing.

All of which promises to cause GOP leaders more fits in the months ahead.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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