House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio has denied a Fox News report that he is weighing a plan to set up focus groups to help Republican congressional leaders better understand the tea party movement.
But the GOP leadership source who disclosed the plan to Fox News stands by the story and cites it as evidence that, despite recent big wins in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia, the Republican Party is struggling to capitalize on widespread voter discontent.
"If you have to run a focus group to understand the tea party movement," the GOP source said, "you never will understand the tea party movement."
House Republican leaders also are said to be readying the launch of a Web site that will allow citizens to help shape the platform of the House Republican Conference, which is being drafted for release on Labor Day. Both efforts underscore the difficulty the major political parties face as they try, ahead of November's midterm elections, to ride -- not be drowned by -- a potential tidal wave of discontent in the American electorate.
"Your source has a vivid imagination," said Michael Steele, a spokesman for Rep. Boehner. Steele pointed to numerous instances in which his boss has met with tea party activists over the last eighteen months, including a speech to a recent rally of thousands in Cincinnati.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the House's third-ranking Republican, reportedly has been tapped by Boehner to reach out to conservatives, libertarians and independents in the tea party movement, with the aim of co-opting them and bringing them into the established Republican Party infrastructure.
Some Republicans have expressed frustration with Pence's pace thus far, however. They cited a Rasmussen Reports survey, released earlier this month, which found 75 percent of Republican voters believe GOP lawmakers are out of touch with their concerns. Asked by Fox News whether he has undertaken such a mission, Pence said with a smile: "It's news to me."
Rep. Parker Griffith, R-Ga., whose defection from the Democratic Party last month made him the House's newest Republican, sees the electorate growing less predictable.
"The American people are becoming more and more independent," he said in an appearance on "Fox and Friends" Thursday. "And their news sources are much, much better than they used to be -- and it's instant. And so I think we are seeing more and more of Americans being very, very independent in how they vote."
It's clear that independents played a decisive role in Scott Brown's stunning upset victory over Martha Coakley in Tuesday's Senate race in Massachusetts. Although no exit polling was conducted, a Suffolk University survey taken just prior to Election Day showed Brown pulling 65 percent of the 2 million independents in the Bay State, where such voters make up more than half the electorate. That percentage was all the more impressive given that Barack Obama drew 57 percent of the same pool of voters in the 2008 presidential election.
"And [in] the recent gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans also won independents by about thirty points," said David Winston, a GOP pollster. "So if independents start breaking the way they are in terms of these three particular races, and that occurs nationally, Republicans have a very good chance of winning majorities here." In contests held in November, Republicans Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell captured the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, respectively.
Rep. Joe Sestak, the Pennsylvania Democrat challenging Arlen Specter in a Senate primary this year, interpreted Brown's surprise victory in Massachusetts as a rebuke against backroom deals cut by leading Democrats during the congressional votes on health care reform.
"It was a vote against Washington, that a promise had been made that governance would be different," Sestak told Fox News on Thursday.
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).