Questions and Cautions for The Tea Party

 The Tea Party has been precisely the tonic necessary to move the body politic off the center line.  Say what you like, fear is a motivator and the Tea Party has engendered its fair share of fear amongst the entrenched political elite. The nature of the Tea Party, the manner in which it came together; the small amount of time it took to germinate and the manner in which individuals came together is remarkable.  The demand that representative government satisfy a new set of demands is refreshing and long overdue.  In essence the Tea Party has served as a third party without actually being one; unique in our political history. 

Tea Party events demonstrate remarkable energy; remarkable as well is the degree to which differing points of issue focus managed to maintain a cohesive center.  The strength of the movement was the presence of thousands of leaders, individual commitments and true grassroots vigor.  It was impossible to co-opt a movement with no central authority; the only deals being made were within the movement.

Then came actual success; according to Fox Business 31 of 36 Tea Party supported candidates have won primary battles. The Tea Party, facing mounting charges of extremism and racism seems to unconsciously understand Gandhi’s wisdom; First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you……and then you win”.

The very fact that political neophytes have moved the political red line is fascinating; a silent majority, silent no more. But, the source of your greatest strength is also, typically, the source of your greatest weakness and therein lies the next set of challenges.

Will the Tea Party become overly enamored with winning?  Or will they say, “win or lose we stand on this ground”? 

The temptation and the pressure to support less than ideal candidates will increase.  “Support me because I’m “less bad” than the other guy”.  “Support me because I can win”! The problem with those appeals is that it is exactly that argument which helped stoke the fire in the first place. 

Christine O’Donnell in Delaware is unlikely to win in the opinion of some, Karl Rove chief amongst them.  The GOP lost no time in announcing that they would not support her financially putting a fine point on why the GOP is losing conservatives appeal and why they have unconsciously put themselves in a position to be overwhelmed by, if not the Tea Party, those who share the fundamental goals of the Tea Party.  GOP fund raising is bleeding and this kneejerk, institutional reaction to Ms. O’Donnell would be one of the reasons why.  Mike Castle won’t endorse her as aide Kate Dickens announced in what amounted to a losers hissy fit.  If this is the manner of assumed entitlement that Delawareans want to be represented by so be it, it’s up to them.  Elections have consequences, as we are frequently reminded.

To all of this I say; “so what?” 

To Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle, Carl Paladino and others; go fight the good fight and we’ll see what happens. Conventional wisdom held that you could not win the primaries in the first place, don’t be swayed by conventional wisdom now.  Keep in mind that it was “establishment” Republicans that created a good portion of this mess to begin with!  Just saying!

Delaware and New York are unlikely to elect a conservative, “so what”! It can’t, it shouldn’t,  be just be about winning.  It has to also be about the opportunity to deliver a message and demonstrate points of differentiation.  It has to also be about motivating people to reconsider entrenched positions.  It has to be about moving the line, even in defeat.  Winning is good, but not based on philosophical compromise, that’s exactly what generated the Tea Party, that was the context of the 2006 and 2008 elections.  Don’t run to the center; see if the center runs to you.     

This space, in the past, urged Republicans to stand on solid conservative ground and be prepared to lose based on ideals and ideas.  Republicans in too many cases choose not to follow this path and Tea Party success is the result.  This is not the end of elections as we know them, two years from now we’re going to do it again.  If the Tea Party movement puts principal ahead of transitory victory the movement will gain strength against the backdrop of the current administration.  To revisit a theme; the strength of institutional political support became the very weakness that defeated many established candidates.

Despite my inherent admiration for The Tea Party they have, however, shown a few early signs of arrogance, their own version of a tin ear and weak attempts at “power politics”.  If it becomes about wielding power in the traditional sense and cowering solid, if imperfect, conservatives your own strength will become a weakness.  If it becomes a scorecard instead of an ideals based movement no ongoing good will come of it. If it becomes about traditional political access, and false recognition, allow me to be blunt; “you’re screwed”.  Fight the good fight, hold on to ideals but avoid the blind spots that eliminate clear vision.