Not since the Raiders picked off Joe Theismann of the Redskins in the waning moments of the first half of the 1984 Super Bowl has an adversary in any contest received such a gift. With the repudiation of President Barack Obama's extension of the Social Security tax holiday, the House of Representatives created a minor crisis in the Republican party.
Ignoring John Boehner and Mitch McConnell's better instincts, tea party Republicans stubbornly insisted on undoing a done deal. Then after a backlash, they re-did what they undone, thus giving Obama a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Once again Obama was able to be both strong and moderate. For Democrats it was a further signal that he rediscovered the promise of his 2008 campaign. All Obama had to do was restate his position and let House Republicans do the rest. What was also beneficial from the president's position was that 39 Republican senators had signed on the two-year extension. The House Republicans, particularly of the tea party stripe, appeared to an ever widening audience as intemperate and extreme. Add on the circus of the Republican debates and Obama entered the presidential campaign in a far better position than if the House GOP had stuck to the original agreement.
What Obama's handlers failed to do, the tea party accomplished in a December week. Despite complaining from the beginning that Republicans were simply out to get him, a point McConnell made some years ago, the administration made little headway. However with Senate Republicans signing on, the bullet head partisanship on the part of the red hots in the House seemed to confirm at least part of the Democrats contention that it was all personal. But it also exposed a widening gap within the GOP.
Never in recent memory have presidential candidates been as eager to violate Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican." Mitt Romney has allowed invisible elements to hammer Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Then he denies he knows about the sear and smear campaign. Tea Parties endorse and disendorse not quite sure what to do. They certainly do not seem heirs to the Republican Party that emerged in 1854 but that other wanna-be the know nothings of the same period. Resentment, not vision, drives the Tea Party, nothing more, nothing less.
McConnell and Boehner were under the illusion that they could harness tea party energies; instead they felt their fury. No political party can follow passions all the time, this the Republican leadership understands. The tea party is all vitriol and posturing, not sure what they like, but very clear about what they hate - Obama. So when the GOP leadership makes what is a smart call, they are preempted by a backbencher revolt. Unable to control the mob they let it take its course. Two tea party congressmen voted against the agreement, then after the storm, requested a do-over. This is the very definition of irresponsibility.
And it helped Obama on two fronts. It helped him further unite the Democratic Party and made his point about mindless opposition to his programs. Slowly the Republicans are becoming the issue and the inner recesses of their caucuses are exposed. Suddenly the tea party does not appear a sincere movement to reduce the deficit but rather exotic and eccentric in it policies and approach. Given the different nature of the GOP, it is not as easy to write off these elements as it was in 1962 when William Buckley denounced Ayn Rand and the John Birchers. At the local level the tea party is becoming a predominant voice within the GOP.
With the economy showing signs of improvement, the Republican Party might not enjoy the advantages of 2010. The tea party is slowly looking more a burden than an asset and the anti Obama extremism is becoming shop worn. To reverse the old adage, with enemies like the tea party, Obama does not need friends.