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Tea Party Leaders Unwilling To Rebrand


And as David just told us, the public opinion polls suggest that much of the country holds the Republicans slightly more or more than slightly responsible for the stalemate, but many leaders of the Tea Party movement say: hold the line. NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea, has just returned from the northwest corner of Georgia. He started by describing to me the 14th Congressional District where he spent much time.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It is the district of Congressman Tom Graves. He has become one of the leaders of the defund Obamacare movement and of linking it to the CR, the continuing resolution. He is backed by the Tea Party. This is one of the most conservative districts in the country. Not only did he get three-quarters of the vote, Mitt Romney got three-quarters of the vote over Barack Obama. So that tells you a little bit about this rural place, I-75 cuts through it. But it's a good bet it's a place a lot of people don't think about a lot.

SIMON: A lot of Americans, according to polls, say they're disgusted, and that's not too strong a word to use. That's the word many Americans use with Congress failing to reach an agreement. What did you hear in the 14th District?

GONYEA: Plenty of disgust, but not for not reaching an agreement. It is with Washington in general, and there is no risk there in the district for a congressman taking the hard line that Tom Graves has taken. The risk for him would be if he somehow cut a deal.

SIMON: So every time we hear pundit say: but the national polls show this, we have to remind ourselves that all politics is local.

GONYEA: Absolutely. But we did talk national politics a bit while I was there, national in terms of what this means for the Republican Party. We do know that the Republican Party this year has been trying to rebrand itself to recover from the drubbing they took in the 2012 election. They did poorly with minority voters, they did poorly with Latinos, they did poorly among young people.

But I've got a taste at this Tea Party meeting I went to of how much pushback the GOP is getting from within its own party. This party official, he's the vice chair of the state Republican Party in Georgia. His name is Michael McNeely; was talking to a Tea Party group and he was bragging about how diverse the party is in ways that they don't get credit. But listen to the reaction as he ticks off these names.

MICHAEL MCNEELY: Let me give you a few examples of elective officials around our country who are diverse and who represent our party. Senator Ted Cruz, a Hispanic Republican in U.S. Senate. In South Carolina, you've got Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican. You've got Marco Rubio in Florida, a Hispanic Republican.


SIMON: None of those names seem to blow the roof of the house, and the response to Rubio was clearly tepid.

GONYEA: It was a small room. There were 30 people there. But applause for Ted Cruz , even cheers, applause for Governor Haley, even cheers; not like you got for Senator Cruz. But there were boos, there was grumbling, there was hissing when Marco Rubio's name came up, and Senator Rubio was a year ago the darling of the Tea Party and the darling of conservatives. He got on the wrong side on the immigration issue since the last election.

And at least in this group, in this county, in this room, they have written him off. That was an unforgivable sin. It is the kind of pushback that the larger party gets from the Tea Party, from evangelicals, from other groups within the party that say: wait a minute, what do you mean rebrand? Does that mean you want to kind of mute our message or hide me over in the corner? No think you. We're going to be front and center.

SIMON: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.