In a previous article, I tried to statistically illustrate that the Tea Party’s electoral strength in 2010 was exaggerated by the media. Although there were some 56 or so members officially in the Tea Party Caucus in the House, it represented about 25% of total Republicans. In the interim, the media had said the power of the Tea Party was waning yet the number of Tea Party-affiliated, endorsed, or associated members of the Republican majority remained at about 25%. In this electoral cycle, I am currently tracking Tea Party associated candidates from the primaries onward. As there have been only two primaries to date (Texas and Illinois), it is too early to determine any trends.
Part of the media’s problem is perception. The high profile Tea Party “victories” in Utah (Mike Lee), Kentucky (Rand Paul) and Florida (Marco Rubio) followed by one in Texas in 2012 (Ted Cruz) led many in the media to believe that the Tea Party was an electoral force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party. Lost in that entire mix is the number of “Tea Party” candidates that lost winnable contests. This writer has written enough about those races and there is no need to rehash those debacles. The bottom line is that the Tea Party has lost more electoral battles than they have won.
That being said, the feud (and there is one) between Tea Party factions and Establishment factions is likewise overplayed by the bloviators in the media. Because the Democrats have the media in their pocket, they like to pick on the GOP rather than the equally important factional disputes in the Democratic Party. Despite the unwarranted love affair with Hillary Clinton, there is a sizeable portion- at least comparable to Tea Party influence in the GOP- of that party that is not satisfied with Clinton which is why we hear the name of Elizabeth Warren so much. Should Clinton run, there would likely be a coalescing around her since she would be their best chance to retain the presidency, but that sizeable minority of Democrats would support her only because the alternative- a Republican president- is less palatable. The feud in the GOP is more “pronounced” since there is no presumptive front runner for president and they are the party currently outside looking in. Just as not every Republican was enamored with Mitt Romney in 2012, not every Democrat will be enamored with Hillary Clinton.
What is exacerbating the problem in the Republican Party are comments from the likes of the face of the Establishment faction- Mitch McConnell. Stating that you are going to “crush” Tea Party opponents certainly does little to ease any rifts within the party you “lead” in the Senate. It sends a message of disdain and to add insult to injury, you do it in a liberal newspaper, the New York Times. On the other side, you have columnists in Townhall and other conservative outlets warning that Tea Party candidates are coming after “traitors” and such. The rhetoric on both sides only feeds into the liberal media’s spin of a dysfunctional Republican Party unworthy of leading this Nation.
I liken the Tea Party to the occasional “revolutions” in rock music. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the music industry had become bloated on itself with a proliferation of pop standards and “big hair” bands that would show their “soft side” with the obligatory power ballad. Yes, indeed, “every rose has its thorn.” But, the music was redundant, stale, bland and “status quo.” Yet despite this trend, there was always a grittier underbelly that had an audience. It finally became noticeable when bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains broke from underground status to mainstream popularity. Their music was more true to the spirit of rock music.
Comparing this to the political scene, clearly the GOP had become redundant, bland, stale and status quo. Yet, there was also an underbelly of discontent with that status quo- a group that rejected the same old policies and practices of the Establishment Republican Party that perceived the GOP as drunk on its own power and that “compromised” too much with the Democrats. It took a financial upheaval (a/k/a “revolution”) for this underbelly to break through. That underbelly was and is the Tea Party. When I used this analogy in the past, some commenters have taken me to task for comparing the Tea Party to a “known heroin addict” (Kurt Cobain of Nirvana), but they completely miss the point.
What those bands represented and what the Tea Party represents politically vis-a-vis the Republican Party is the proverbial needed slap in the face. While bands like Nirvana reminded rock music what the spirit of rock was all about- not necessarily financial and commercial success- the Tea Party reminded the rest of the GOP about the importance of principles, particularly conservative principles. In effect, the GOP had drifted from those principles. After all, one of the biggest bureaucracies was created under Bush- the Department of Homeland Security. After all, Bush had created one of the biggest expansions of government welfare with Medicare Part D. After all, Bush had expanded the powers of the Department of Education with No Child Left Behind. Not that these were enacted without good intentions, but a party predicated on the underlying principle of a smaller, more limited government was certainly acting and legislating and leading by the exact opposite.
Thus, the relative strength of the Tea Party should not be judged by the number of primary upsets they pull off or the number of general elections they win or lose. The liberal characterizations that they are some racist group trying to return the United States to the 1920s is ridiculous. Above all else, they are a fiscally conservative amorphous grassroots group of like-minded people upset with the politics as usual in Washington. Every group will have their share of nut cases and a fringe element that the media will jump on as the prototypical member of the overall group. Please do not insult one’s intelligence and say there are no extreme Marxists in the Democratic Party. And they have their fair share of racists also which I define as people who see a racial motive behind everything (in fact, they have probably have more than the Republican Party given that definition). What is upsetting to the Tea Party is the fact that Republicans running for office often talk the talk but then fail to walk the walk. Some of this may be simple political reality but one suspects some of it is a compromising of principles.
Regarding the Establishment or “moderate” Republicans, there is certainly a grain of truth to the fact that more fiscally conservative and sound policies mean little without first getting elected and being in power. Unfortunately, that sometimes involves compromise and choosing the lesser of two evils; is it better to get 75% of something rather than nothing of it? Two things perturb this writer the most. The first is some mythical conservative checklist where every box must be checked off. The fact is that there are very few nationally electable such people. The other thing is the reliance by some on endorsements by certain groups like the Club for Growth and so on. So what? I rue the day when voters make up their minds on their preferred candidate because this or that special interest group endorses them.
The not-so-daunting task for the Republican Party is to find that candidate who will bridge the gap between these two factions and he or she is out there somewhere and will likely emerge before 2016. But to assume or assert that the Democratic Party is immune to intra-party squabbles and feuds is absurd. The rift in the GOP is a welcome one. If nothing else, the Tea Party refocused the overall party towards what they should have been all along. From 1968 to Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party was lost in the wilderness. That is 24 years- eons in political terms. From 2010 to (hopefully) 2016 is a much shorter time to be in that wilderness. One should be thankful that the Tea Party came along and sped up the process.