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Shutdown brings new Tea Party scrutiny from GOP business interests

Chicago TeParty Patriots  hostsed  Tax Day TeParty Daley PlazApril 16 2012.|  File Phoby Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Tea Party Patriots hostsed a Tax Day Tea Party at Daley Plaza on April 16, 2012.| File Photo by Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: November 19, 2013 6:38AM



As government doors reopened Thursday following a painful, 16-day economic odyssey, some of the nation’s top business groups were taking a hard look at their political strategy.

Specifically: how to counter Tea Party members who brought the country to the brink of default.

The political arm of the National Retail Federation said it was reviewing 25 different primaries and would likely invest in challengers in a small group of them.

“This was a man-made disaster. This didn’t have to happen,” David French, the National Retail Federation’s top lobbyist, told the Sun-Times on Thursday.

“There is an underlying concern with a small number of folks who align with the Tea Party where the end goal is a political consolidation of a nascent movement of activists. That’s not our goal.”

Still, French noted that pouring money into an opponent’s race wasn’t going to be enough to avoid recurring crises.

“Politics is a contact sport,” French said. “There’s a robust movement by the Tea Party. If we’re going to counter it, it’s not going to be done effectively by using a couple of thousands of dollars.”

French said his group is developing a “local, organic” strategy that would mean sending reps to local town hall meetings to advocate from the business standpoint.

“That means working with candidates, going to town hall meetings, helping to drive the policy debate forward,” French said.

For its part, the National Federation of Independent Business, said it was considering primary challenges.

“We will be looking at individual races on a case-by-case basis as they develop,” said Jean Card, vice president of media and communications for the organization. “If we believe that a strong supporter of small business needs our help, we may decide to engage in some primary races.”

The business community is still reeling from the effects of the government shutdown and the volatility of the markets from a Congressional stalemate that dragged into the 11th hour.

“There’s an enormous amount of ripple effect. When we talk about economic effects of this, this is one of these examples where you see how much impact the government has on the economy,” said Wayne Steger, chairman of DePaul University’s political science department.

He said business groups got an intense education over the last several weeks regarding who they were dealing with in Congress. Steger said there’s a potential for big money interests — including the Koch Brothers — to pull back their support if the governing-by-crisis approach reoccurs in January.

“These kinds of highly ideological individuals who don’t want to compromise — we have a system of political compromise in order to function. If they won’t cooperate, literally, the system fails,” Steger said. “If these guys come back and do the same thing in January, I think you’re going to see groups like the Koch Brothers — who are funding a lot of this — pulling back on this. It can get out of control.”

The National Retail Federation’s David French said he didn’t just blame the Tea Party either, noting that it was a build-up of reckless budget practices that led to this fall’s impasse.

Tea Party supporters defend their overall mission, even as some sounded ready to shift strategy a bit in the coming months.

David From, the Illinois Director for Americans For Prosperity said there are 60,000 “grass-roots activists” — including Tea Partiers — in Illinois and 2.3 million nationwide, whose chief goal is curbing government spending.

“From our perspective, our main focus from now through really the spring is addressing the debt and reducing spending. That’s what the sequester cuts did, we think we need to go back to that,” he said.

As far as governing by crisis: “I don’t think there is a whole lot of appetite for another round of brinksmanship.”

nkorecki@suntimes.com

@natashakorecki



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