For the Tea Party and their millions of supporters and sympathizers there’s a big day on the near horizon. Election Day will likely be the day that every ideological, philosophical or political movement faces. Election Day will be, for the Tea Party, the day when the movement runs head first into the rock wall of a new reality they created. New realities spawn fundamental choices; that is especially the case when a degree of success has been achieved. Maintain ideological purity or recognize the lesser of evils by way of compromise; tactics or strategy, big picture or not?
The Tea Party, the degree to which they attract independents and how long those independents hang in there are in the balance. They are in the balance to the real battle waiting in 2012. This coalition may well determine the next President and it could very well be Barack Obama.
There is a conundrum for the movement and individuals. The insistence on an ideologically “pure” candidate with little chance of victory will elect Barack Obama to a second term; Sarah Palin for all her contributions and value as a voice of conservatism comes to mind as the prototype of a conservative with long odds on being elected. Additionally a deep schism or inability to prioritize core issues within conservative ranks could also reelect the President.
While independents have clearly orientated toward a more conservative approach to governance they are not necessarily conservatives. Independents can be moved, it’s the nature of it; they pull the political rope left or right to alter inertia toward the middle ground! Independents call the final score. However you do the math, “unaffiliated” independents determine winners and losers and they will pull the rope either way.
In a scenario where amongst the 2012 Republican presidential candidates left standing, varying degrees of conservatism in place with the more likely general election winner being the “least” conservative. What happens? How hard are you going to hit that rock wall, or will the rock wall hit you? Conservatives of all stripes have to answer those questions, and more. As always, what makes you strong can also be the source of your downfall. To insist on ideological purity is attractive, after all we’re a stubborn bunch; that is however, exactly what the opposition on the left is counting on and has clearly signaled. Divide and conquer will be the order of the day and it won’t all be in the daylight.
There are questions.
Has the Tea Party message been delivered? Is it the new political Maginot Line for the GOP? Is that good enough for this moment in time? The time to “purge” miscreant Republicans is past; part of the new reality. A continued focus on purging unacceptable Republicans reelects Barack Obama. The purge was necessary, but needs to go on hold in a new more complex reality.
Will the message stick? Will Republican behavior in a new Congress be “good enough”? How good is good enough? If it’s not good enough what are the alternatives: reelection of the President, a new Democratic Congressional majority?
Will Republicans and Conservatives reflect on their own criticisms? Democrats are justly accused of gross overreach, will Conservatives, especially Tea Party Conservatives be guilty of that in the other direction. Will Conservatives forget that the phrase “Center / Right nation” includes the word center?
For the moment, Republicans and the GOP are one of the rocks in the wall. How far they will move toward traditional conservatism and on what specific issues remains an open question. Can the Tea Party and the GOP find common cause or, properly stated, “Common enough cause”? The issue base in 2012 will expand beyond size of government, transparency and economics; Democrats will do their best to insure it. Republicans will have a legislative record to either run on or defend. If Republicans have to defend from the right and from the center things will get messy, exactly as they are now for Democrats as Congressional candidates and The President face opposition from their base on the left for doing too little and leaning voters in the center for doing too much.
Will the movement be happy with a moral victory or is a real victory necessary to set the stage for yet more progress, albeit incremental progress? Will we, in our haste, forget the lessons of history regarding how movements with staying power grow?
It is ever so tempting, as this space has, admittedly, argued in the past, to hold the ideological line and be prepared to lose on principal. That thinking was on display during the primary season when in the early going there did not seem to be much to lose. But the primary season, unexpectedly, created one of those ever challenging “new realities”. It’s tempting until you calculate the potential price to be paid and even then it’s still tempting. However, in this case the price could be the reelection of Barack Obama and all of the powers that accrue to that reelection.
Philosophical courage is admirable and necessary and was exactly what was needed to move the bar. However, the reelection of the President will result in a set-back for a conservative resurgence. A degree of compromise and the ability to see both the larger picture and the increments necessary to get there will expand the time and space for fundamental conservative principals to take hold, show results and become the new mainstream.
The definition of a new more politically conservative mainstream is the big picture, the strategic imperative. It will require victories large and small along the way. Isn’t that the victory with staying power? Isn’t that the one that begins and facilitates the ongoing process of Constitutional restoration? Problem is; it can’t arrive fully formed. It will take time, space and above all diligence from the Tea Party brethren to insure what has begun, continues.