Tuesday night was a mixed bag for the Tea Party. Their candidate Ted Cruz became the first Hispanic elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, and they defended a number of seats in the House. But, they also lost some high profile races: Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Joe Walsh in Illinois. Melissa Block talks with Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a conservative group that supports the Tea Party, about its future.
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What a difference two years makes. If the 2010 election was all about the rise of the Tea Party, last night, it was clear that narrative has changed. The Tea Party did have some wins to celebrate - their candidate Ted Cruz became the first Hispanic elected to the Senate from Texas. But they also had some high-stakes losses - Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and incumbent Congressman Joe Walsh in Illinois.
For some thoughts on where the Tea Party goes now, we're joined by Matt Kibbe. He's president and CEO of FreedomWorks. That's a conservative group that supports the Tea Party.
Matt Kibbe, welcome to the program.
MATT KIBBE: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: And on balance, how would you characterize last night for the Tea Party?
KIBBE: Well, there's definitely disappointments, there's no doubt about that. In a lot of ways, though, it ended up being a status quo election. We net lost a few seats in the Senate. It looks like the House will be a wash once the dust is settled. It's interesting to see that in terms of the issues that mattered, I think one of the mistakes that Republicans made was not running on the very same issues that won so many seats for them in 2010.
Health care was effectively taken off the table because of Mitt Romney's own history of supporting mandated health insurance at the state level. There wasn't a lot of talk about spending. And a lot of Democrats, successful Democrats that ran for Senate seats, actually sounded like the Tea Partyers of 2010. They talked about fiscal responsibility and reigning in big government.
BLOCK: Well, let me ask you about some of the results from the exit polls yesterday. When asked specifically about the Tea Party, 21 percent of voters said they support the Tea Party, 30 percent oppose it, 41 percent are neutral. What does that tell you?
KIBBE: I think it means that the brand Tea Party has taken on some water. Maybe that's the price we paid for making such a difference in 2010. You know, Jesse Jackson, for instance, just gave a speech to a college campus suggesting that the Tea Party was somehow in favor of segregation and slavery. That sort of inflammatory, ridiculous, and unfounded rhetoric I think has taken its toll. But if you look at the issues that we ran on in 2010, they're still very much the center of conversation.
BLOCK: The Tea Party Movement, when it started, really coalesced around opposing President Obama's health care overhaul plan. That is now law. President Obama has been reelected. What becomes the organizing principle for the Tea Party Movement now?
KIBBE: I think it still comes down to accountability. We've always try to hold both parties accountable for the promises they make in the election cycle. And we come upon these really incredible policy challenges just days away; the fiscal cliff - the automatic tax increase that kicks in January 1. Another increase in the debt ceiling, it is a train wreck coming. And it is only true that if Americans insisted on fiscal responsibility and show up will we get it. We're not going to get it from Washington, D.C.
BLOCK: Does that mean that health care now is off the table for you?
KIBBE: No, I mean, one of the first things we need to do is repeal the health care law. And how you tackle the unfunded liabilities of our existing entitlements, including Medicare, while adding further unfunded liabilities under the books, it doesn't make much sense to me. And I think that's one of the issues we have to confront.
BLOCK: How can you still be talking about repealing the health care law when Democrats have strengthened their hold on the Senate? They may have a little bit of a pickup in the House and you have a Democratic president who was just reelected.
KIBBE: No, it's going to be a huge challenge. But in terms of the fiscal realities, you can't have everything when you have $16 trillion in national debt; over $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see. And taxing the rich, by their own numbers, does not get you where you need to be. You have to put entitlements on the table. You have to put everything on the table.
I think it's a dilemma for Democrats. It's definitely a frustration for fiscal conservatives because we did lose that opportunity to fully repeal ObamaCare. And we're going to have to continue to have that fight.
BLOCK: Matt Kibbe, thanks for talking with us.
KIBBE: Thank you.
BLOCK: Matt Kibbe is president and CEO of FreedomWorks. That's a conservative group allied with the Tea Party. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.