Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Wednesday, 20 October 2010 08:16 UK

US elections 2010: A storm brews for both main parties

By Stephen Sackur
Presenter, BBC HARDtalk

People attend a rally held by the Tea Party Express in Elko, Nevada
The Tea Partiers align with Republicans but are displeased with the party

Barack Obama had better hope his White House is weatherproof. A storm of righteous anger is sweeping across the United States and it's going to hit Washington on 2 November.

Democrats in the US Congress are braced for significant losses in the mid-term elections - their control of the House of Representatives may be blown away, the Senate too could be left swaying in the wind.

Republican leaders are already calling it a "wave election" - the harbinger of a fundamental shift in the American political psyche - but they're reacting to, rather than making, the political weather.

Grassroots fury

In fact the Republican Party itself may be destabilised by the wave of discontent it is trying to ride.

Because what America is experiencing is the power of anti-politics - anti-government, anti-incumbent, anti-elite.

To borrow a phrase from the cult 1970s movie Network, America's most energised voters are "mad as hell and they're not going to take it any more".

The Tea Party movement is politics for all those disgusted by… politics.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 37 Senate seats are being contested on 2 November
The Republican Party is expected to win a majority in the House of Representatives

Named to commemorate the American tax rebels who took on British colonial power, its network of activists and supporters is now using the Republican Party as a vehicle for nationwide protest against Big Government in this election season.

President Obama is portrayed by some in the movement as a "Commie", a Fascist, or both. There are those who question his citizenship and others who doubt his Christian faith.

All the Tea Partiers see his policies - from healthcare reform, to the injection of government money into the flagging economy - as an affront to American values and freedom.

From Florida to Utah to Delaware, establishment Republican candidates who failed to capture this grassroots fury were de-selected in favour of Tea Party favourites. Call it the Sarah Palin-isation of the American Right.

Ann Coulter defends President Bush's spending record

Which suits Ann Coulter down to the ground. She was the "queen of right-wing extreme" long before Glenn Beck and company turned up the conservative volume on Fox News.

For the past decade Ms Coulter has been railing against "liberals" - a word she spits out with unrivalled venom. "Liberals hate America", she says, "even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do."

Two years ago, when Barack Obama's soaring oratory was propelling him to the White House, her message was all but drowned out. Now she's tapping into the Tea Party zeitgeist.

But dig deep into Ms Coulter's politics and you see why the American Right may have trouble presenting a unified front once the mid-term elections have been and gone.

She speaks admiringly of maverick Republican Congressman Ron Paul and his son Rand - the Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky and the darling of many Tea Party insurgents.

The Paul family sits on the extreme libertarian wing of the Republican Party - they advocate the dismantling of much of the machinery of the federal government, even the Department of Education, and social security.

They have been steadfast opponents of America's post 9/11 military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Strategic mistake

The libertarian strand in the Tea Party movement makes the Republican leadership nervous.

After all, the last Republican President George W Bush actually expanded the scope and cost of the federal Government. He also took America into prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms Coulter now condemns the US military surge in Afghanistan as "Obama's war of choice" - that wins her few friends in the Republican establishment, which remains committed to a muscular US military strategy.

David Frum believes that Republicans are not offering any effective solutions

The cracks are beginning to show. David Frum, a former speechwriter to President Bush, fears the Republican Party is making a major strategic mistake.

He's accused fellow conservatives - not least those in the Tea Party movement - of responding to the Obama agenda in a "tremendously destructive way".

On healthcare reform, for example, Mr Frum says Republicans could have engineered positive changes if only they'd negotiated with the Democratic majority.

That has earned Mr Frum the sort of scorn from arch conservative commentators that is usually reserved for liberals. "Ass" and "moron" are two of the politer epithets hurled his way.

Trench warfare

But when Mr Frum says Sarah Palin "has irretrievably proven she's not up to the job of being president of the United States", he's voicing the private thoughts of many senior figures in the Republican leadership.

The Republican Party, he says, needs to figure out how to be a "modern" conservative movement "capable of appealing to the young and the educated as well as the disaffected".

So what happens, if as seems likely, the Republicans make major gains on 2 November?

On Capitol Hill they will be tempted to ride the anti-government wave as far as they can. They've already pledged to reverse President Obama's healthcare reforms, and they say they'll cut $100bn out of the federal budget while increasing defence spending and lowering taxes.

All of which points to political gridlock in Washington DC, at a time when America faces grave challenges both at home and overseas.

Many Americans may feel they have seen this movie before. In 1992 a youthful Bill Clinton won the White House for the Democrats, only to see a new breed of conservative Republicans sweep to power on Capitol Hill two years later.

The result? Trench warfare which left the federal government in limbo and the Republican revolutionaries politically wounded.

Perhaps conservatives watching the political clouds gathering over the White House should be careful what they wish for. Very soon they too could be in the eye of a storm.

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