MSNBC Thinks Todd Tiahrt, Bush-Era Earmarker, Is a Tea Partier

by Joel Gehrke

Former Representative Todd Tiahrt’s bid to upset Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) is, on paper, one of the more interesting races of the cycle: a former congressman from the spending wing of the party is trying to win a Republican primary — voters go to the polls today — against the Tea Party-backed congressman he previously endorsed.

Tiahrt, a former member of the House Appropriations Committee who supports earmarks, picked an odd year to make a comeback bid: he’s running in the same campaign season that saw Senator Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) almost lose his seat (Cochran also loves earmarks) to a Tea Party challenger; and in which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.,) fell in a historic defeat to a Tea Party candidate who denounced Cantor’s positions on immigration and his close ties to big businesses.

MSNBC ironed out these complexities by making the novel declaration that Tiahrt and Pompeo are both Tea Partiers. “By all accounts, the former congressman from Kansas is a doctrinaire tea partier,” MSNBC’s Ned Reskinoff wrote. “Yet there’s one political issue on which the challenger makes common cause with liberals. Todd Tiahrt wants food to be clearly labeled if includes GMOs (genetically modified organisms).” Reskinoff regards this as more evidence of the Tea Party’s break with big business.

“By all accounts” — Tiahrt, by his account, is a former Boeing employee who used his post on “the powerful House Appropriations Committee” to steer government money to his district. “During the down swing in aviation, I fought for numerous initiatives that helped keep jobs here or create new jobs in the aviation industry,” Tiahrt wrote on his campaign website. Those initiatives he fought for in Congress are government initiatives, of course; this is the kind of economic thinking that leads President Obama to brag about jobs “saved or created” by the 2009 stimulus.

Tiahrt has used that same rhetoric, not incidentally. “I helped create and save and keep jobs here in Kansas through their efforts to contract with the federal government,” the former appropriator said while defending his support for the earmarks that House Republicans banned after the Tea Party wave election of 2010.

In short, Tiahrt has aligned himself with the Thad Cochran wing of the Republican Party — which makes sense, given that the Mississippi senator is also a veteran of the Appropriations Committee — when it comes to the role of the government in the economy; it need hardly be stated that antipathy to the role of the government in the economy inspired the Tea Party backlash against the 2008 bailouts and Obamacare.

There’s actually one point of disagreement between Pompeo and Tiahrt that can be fairly portrayed as the Tea Party making common cause with liberals: the National Security Agency’s phone records program. Bewilderingly, this issue goes unmentioned — even though it would have done far more to bolster Tiahrt’s Tea Party credibility than GMOs and Pompeo disagrees with another Tea Party lawmaker about the validity of allowing the NSA to store such records.

Nevertheless, there is one quotation in the piece that gets to the logic of Tiahrt’s campaign.

“Folks who want nothing to do with the federal government are just fine with federal agricultural programs,” the Food and Water Watch’s Patty Lovera says.

So, Tiahrt sees farmers and Boeing employees who don’t like the NSA, for instance, and decides to oppose the NSA and support farms and Boeing. It’s not ideologically coherent, but it makes sense as an attempt to be all things to all voters in the district. What it doesn’t make Tiahrt is a Tea Partier, even if he did join the Tea Party caucus for a few months.

The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel, and the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney have all noted that Tiahrt is a Bush-era Republican trying to take down a Tea Party congressman for, well, being a Tea Party congressman. Somehow MSNBC overlooked that dynamic.

It just goes to show that ThinkProgress’s Zack Beauchamp was on to something when he suggested that liberals should stop searching for “conservatives telling progressives how right they are, but rather [try] to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.”

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