Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty
Why GOP Rep. Bob Inglis is looking for a new job.
It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn't sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn't ponied up. Inglis' task: Get them back on the team. "They were upset with me," Inglis recalls. "They are all Glenn Beck watchers." About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, "They say, 'Bob, what don't you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.'" Inglis didn't know how to respond.
As he tells this story, the veteran lawmaker is sitting in his congressional office, which he will have to vacate in a few months. On June 22, he was defeated in the primary runoff by Spartanburg County 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy, who had assailed Inglis for supposedly straying from his conservative roots, pointing to his vote for the bank bailout and against George W. Bush's surge in Iraq. Inglis, who served six years in Congress during the 1990s as a conservative firebrand before being reelected to the House in 2004, had also ticked off right-wingers in the state's 4th Congressional District by urging tea-party activists to "turn Glenn Beck off" and by calling on Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to apologize for shouting "You lie!" at Obama during the president's State of the Union address. For this, Inglis, who boasts (literally) a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, received the wrath of the tea party, losing to Gowdy 71 to 29 percent. In the weeks since, Inglis has criticized Republican House leaders for acquiescing to a poisonous, tea party-driven "demagoguery" that he believes will undermine the GOP's long-term credibility. And he's freely recounting his frustrating interactions with tea party types, while noting that Republican leaders are pushing rhetoric tainted with racism, that conservative activists are dabbling in anti-Semitic conspiracy theory nonsense, and that Sarah Palin celebrates ignorance.
The week after that meeting with his past funders—whom he failed to bring back into the fold—Inglis asked House Republican leader John Boehner what he would have told this group of Obama-bashers. Inglis recalls what happened:
[Boehner] said, "I would have told them that it's not quite that bad. We disagree with him on the issues." I said, "Hold on Boehner, that doesn't work. Let me tell you, I tried that and it did not work." I said [to Boehner], "If you're going to lead these people and the fearful stampede to the cliff that they're heading to, you have to turn around and say over your shoulder, 'Hey, you don't know the half of it.'"
In other words, feed and fuel the anger and paranoia of the right.