Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma defended the Tea Party on Morning Joe Thursday, calling it "one of the best things that ever happened in the country."
He declared the Tea Party made up of "regular joes" and "really kind people," and said, "I don't think you all get it," to the rest of those on Morning Joe, including Gail Collins of The New York Times.
Collins had just authored a column, "For God, Texas and Golf," that pointed to the alarmist and often crazy-sounding things that come from some Tea Party politicians, along with their love of unabashed partisanship. For exhibit A, she cited Ted Cruz, who just picked up a Texas Republican primary win this week, and his statement that the United Nations is hellbent on demolishing golf courses.
Recent political wins by Tea Party members such as Cruz and the takedown of 36-year incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar earlier this year, have thrust the conservative movement back into the spotlight.
"Tea Party Shows Its Power in Senate Races," blared The Wall Street Journal, and "Tea Party Aims to Apply Its Touch to the Senate GOP," said The New York Times. Atlanta Journal Constitution went with: "Cruz's Texas victory shows Tea Party staying power."
Tea Partiers have not been shy about the main aspects of their platform: they want less government, less spending, and less taxes. They're also fans of guns, the U.S. Constitution, and the English language. They're less enamored with gays and illegal immigration.
What turns the average voter off from this platform (besides the general crazy talk), suggested Collins, is the fact that its "less spending" and "less taxes" mandate also means many Americans would lose services they are accustomed to receiving.
"There’s a good reason why people don’t relate to the Tea Party," said Collins. "It’s because it really wants to undo all the entitlements that people really like and wants to drastically reduce the size of the government and wants to get rid of veterans’ benefits. It wants to get rid of education aid—all the stuff people really like."
Coburn didn't argue with Collins on her broader point that many in the Tea Party want to eliminate or slash entitlements (Social Security, Medicare), but he took issue with her point on veterans. After all, most politicians know that veterans are one of those untouchable groups, beloved by many Americans.
"I don’t know one Tea Party leader anywhere that wants to eliminate veterans benefits," he said. "I’m appalled. That’s not a plank anywhere. It’s about how do you deliver those benefits and keep your word to the very people who defended this country."
Uh-oh. Coburn seems to have been struck with that notorious Republican amnesia.
Remember when Rep. Michele Bachmann, chair of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, led a proposal to cut $4.5 billion from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, along with a decrease in disability compensation? And then there were the Tea Party-backed House GOP cuts to services for homeless veterans.
After all, if you're ditching taxes while also balancing the budget, you're going to have to trim the fat, right?