Imagine if an inside-the-Beltway consultant met with national Republican leaders and presented an innovative strategy to develop a new political movement that would add millions of voters to the Republican coalition. And what if that consultant assured those GOP leaders that their party would not have to alter its views in order to capture and retain those voters.
Presumably, Republicans would gladly pay that consultant a fat fee and wonder at their good fortune.
Or perhaps they wouldn’t.
The Tea Party movement has attracted millions of new voters (as well as millions of formerly disaffected Republican voters) to the GOP. And all that Tea Party members ask of the GOP is that it acts according to its own principles by supporting lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and less government.
So why are many in the Republican establishment recoiling in horror at the most powerful new force politics has seen in at least a decade? Perhaps it is because these self-appointed leaders are beginning to realize that a fundamental change to the party’s power structure may cause their own political demise.
The Republican establishment’s response to Christine O’Donnell’s surprise win in the Delaware Senate GOP primary was symptomatic of the change. Instead of embracing O’Donnell, the initial reaction of some Republican figures was to impugn her character and write off her chances of victory. This is a page from the same playbook that’s been used to marginalize social conservatives.
Mere hours after O’Donnell’s victory over Obama Republican Mike Castle, unnamed sources at the National Republican Senatorial Committee suggested that they wouldn’t spend any money on her general election campaign.
Politico reported, “Privately … senior Senate officials signaled that they were almost certainly finished with Delaware.” Karl Rove predicted on Fox News, “This is not a race we’re gonna be able to win,”
Such knee-jerk defeatism is curious given the GOP’s ambitious goal of holding 51 Senate seats come next January. For decades the establishment’s mantra has been that conservatives need to support liberal Republicans in liberal and moderate districts and states. Often this meant that conservative candidates were shut out of Republican primary contests.
In Delaware, conservatives were instructed to ignore Castle’s liberal record, his long-time support for abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and cap-and-trade energy taxes. They were told to disregard his lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 52, only a few points higher than Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, who now makes his home in the Democratic Party. These facts were to be ignored in pursuit of the greater good of achieving a majority in the Senate.
But if it was fair to ask conservatives to line-up behind the establishment Republican before the primary, why is it not also fair to ask establishment Republicans to line up behind the conservative nominee in the general election? Conservatives shouldn’t be the only ones who are asked to “take one for the team.”
It’s a long list of liberal Republicans who, when shown the exit by voters, choose self-preservation over the party. Those most recent examples include Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski. True to form, Castle is refusing to endorse O’Donnell. So much for acting in the best interests of the party.
Party insiders claim O’Donnell cannot possibly win. But the first post-primary poll put her only 11 points behind her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons. And Coons’ left-wing record hasn’t been exposed yet.
Scott Brown was down by more with less time to go in Massachusetts, and we know how that turned out. Brown wouldn’t have had a chance without conservative support. The establishment, having seen the grassroots anger, is now beginning to line up behind O’Donnell. They need to continue to do so, and the personal attacks need to stop.
Some pundits insist that O’Donnell can’t win because her support mirrors that of the Tea Party. But that’s not such a bad thing. The media often portrays the Tea Party as a fringe movement, but polls show it is increasingly recognized as mainstream.
A recent Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll found that a plurality—44%—of Americans see the movement in a favorable light. Interestingly, nearly half of those who say they support the Tea Party say they would not attend a Tea Party event. The Christian Science Monitor calls such supporters “closet admirers.”
“The general party line says the Tea Party is fringe, but I think most of the public hasn’t bought that point of view … and sees the Tea Party movement in a positive to neutral light,” said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, the firm that conducted the poll. “The over-arching message here is that Democrats have been in denial about the Tea Party [phenomenon]. And I think it’s coming back to haunt them.”
But it’s not just the Democrats who have been in denial. So has the GOP establishment. An unnamed (as always) “senior GOP aide” told Politico that the party faults South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint for backing Tea Party candidates against establishment Republicans.
But, as a DeMint spokesman told Politico, “Perhaps the real reason some Washington insiders are upset is that these [Tea Party] Republicans actually have principles.” And as O’Donnell said about her campaign, “I didn’t count on the establishment to win the primary. I’m counting on the voters of Delaware.”
The GOP has historically been a top-down party in which political bosses anointed candidates with little input from the grassroots and then instructed voters to fall in line on Election Day. (I still remember how hard that establishment tried to deny Ronald Reagan the GOP presidential nomination.)
But America has had it with the top-down power structure. Americans have tired of Washington dictating how they can spend their own money, what they can eat and drive and what sort of healthcare they can receive.
Conservatives are sick and tired of electing candidates who squander the opportunities they are given once in office. Too many Republicans elected with the help of conservatives have voted like Big Government liberals once they got to Washington.
The explosion of grass-roots activism by economic as well as social conservatives is dismantling the old GOP power structure, leaving in its place a grass-roots, bottom-up party in which voters, not the establishment, decide who they want to represent them.
This may irk some Republican leaders, but it’s a good thing for any party that strives to represent “We the People.”