Can the Tea Partiers’ beliefs be falsified? I don’t think they can be. I mean, is there any evidence that could convince them that the fault here lies with themselves, in the way they conceive politics, and in the way they behaved? It sure doesn’t look like it. In that sense, they think of politics as a kind of religion. It’s not for nothing that the hardcore House members stood together and sang “Amazing Grace” as the impossibility of their position became ever clearer. They really do bring a religious zealotry to politics.
Let me hasten to say that I’m not endorsing the “Christianist” meme, which I find far too reductive, among other things. Besides, many of the Tea Partiers and fellow travelers are not motivated by religious faith, but by a religious-like zeal for their political ideology. It was like this on the Right before the advent of the Tea Party. There has long been a sense on the Right that the movement must be vigilant against the backsliders and compromisers, who will Betray True Conservatism if you give them the chance. Again, the religious mindset: politics as a purity test. In this worldview, a politician who compromises sells out the True Faith — and faith, by definition, does not depend on empirical observation to justify itself.
Millman points out that treating politics as religion makes getting a majority near impossible:
In order to persuade someone, you have to be willing to entertain the possibility that there are multiple ways of looking at something, that there are arguments on both sides (albeit presumably better ones on your own), and that it is right and proper for someone to expect to be persuaded of the rightness of your position rather than merely be told what it is. That the truth is not self-evident, but contested, continuously. If entertaining that possibility is threatening to your faith, you won’t do it. If you don’t do it, you won’t be very persuasive to people who don’t already believe. Of course, you make make some converts of people who are looking for a new faith. But those who don’t convert will remain unpersuaded.
A political party that tried to build itself like a church could only succeed if it had monopoly control of the state – if, in other words, it was the ruling party of a totalitarian system. Under a situation of free competition, those principles of organization will inevitably lead to perpetual minority status.
The confusion of politics with religion also explains why the GOP is obsessed with punishing political heresy. For example, Molly Ball gets an incredible quote from a Tea Partier who seems to no longer care about getting a majority:
“There are two views on the right. One says more Republicans is better; the other says better Republicans is better,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy for the Tea Party group FreedomWorks. “One view focuses on the number of Republicans in the Senate, the other on the amount of fight in the senators.”
Finally, it’s telling that Eric Erickson uses religious language when attempting to enforce Tea Party dogma:
Men like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and others have preached a great sermon against Obamacare, but now conservatives who supported them see that these men have refused to actually practice what they’ve been preaching. They’ve refused to stand and fight with the rest of us.