Conservatives of every hue and stripe appear to be at each other’s throats these days. Whether the differences are tactical or philosophical is important. Philosophical differences should occasion public debate, resolution or possible separation. Tactical differences should not. Tactical differences should be worked out in private and a unified approach should be forwarded.
Whether we should defund Obama Care, repeal the law outright, or allow it to go forward and rescue the voters after they have come to realize the folly of the bill, is a matter of tactics. Whether we believe government should run the nation’s healthcare industry or any other industry goes to core philosophical beliefs. The confusion comes from politicians too entrenched in the business of holding on to personal power to remember if they ever had any deep philosophical convictions. How we proceed will be determined by how we answer the fundamental question, “Who is the Republican Party?” Is the Republican Party a collection of elected leaders Republican voters turn out to support? – OR – Is it a set of philosophical standards to which Republican voters hold elected officials accountable?
In its inception, the Tea Party was open to all but it did not take long for the left to reject, in no uncertain terms, a constitutionalist movement dedicated to individual liberty through smaller government. Republicans on the other hand seemed a more natural constituency. Born of a dedication to the Declaration of independence and a commitment to individual liberty, historically the Republican Party had a lot more in common with the Tea Party. Realizing the bleak history of third parties in the US, the Tea Party was wise to concentrate its political activities to working within the Republican Party and to concentrating its efforts towards victories in the primary process within that party.
However, some in leadership positions within the Republican Party are now referring to the Tea Party in rather harsh terms. Many in the Tea Party movement are rightly upset as these old guard Republicans seem to be blaming the Tea Party for their own failures. Too many on both sides are talking separation. Although this would satisfy the immediate emotional angst on both sides, it would benefit neither. We stand to lose more than an opportunity, we could lose the Republic. It is time for a timeout.
The Republican Party would have to be blind not to recognize the victories it has enjoyed because of the efforts of many dedicated Tea Party activists and a considerable number of Tea Party candidates. On the other hand, Tea Party leaders were accurate in their assessment of the history of third parties and wise to avoid going down that path. One of the greatest frauds perpetrated on the American public is the notion that the Democrats represent the political left, the Republicans represent the political right and that the squishy middle is populated by vacillating independents. The reality is that the Democrats do represent the left, but the squishy middle is often populated by elected Republicans remaining in office too long, and becoming too far removed from their more conservative constituents back home. To the Republicans right, is a vast pool of constitutional conservatives who had given up on the political process. It is from this vast pool that the Tea Party drew its membership.
Democrats are as delighted by this division in Republican ranks as we would be if the Stalinist wing of the Democrat Party engaged the Maoist wing in a similar struggle. What’s worse is the Democrats are using this time to advance their agenda. The only way for the Tea Party to save themselves is to save the Republic. The only way to do that is to commandeer the Republican Party. With push back from some in the Republican leadership, it seems like a difficult task.
But there is good news as well. The Republican Party is not its leadership. Republican rank and file do not revere their leadership as the Democrats do. While Democrats elect the next savior, Republicans just hope the newly elected will not be an embarrassment. Republicans feel fortunate if the newly elected can hold on to their conservative values until at least the next election. The vast majority of rank and file Republicans and many in leadership are in total agreement with the Tea Party. The criticisms of Republican leaders often expressed by Tea Partiers have long and often been the topic of discussion among Republican rank and file as well.
It is time to assess who we are; who is the opposition and who is it that we can work with? We, the Tea Party, are constitutional conservatives with an abiding respect for the Founders’ vision for this nation. Our guiding principle is increased individual liberty through smaller government. The Tea Party is, to use a term coined by Glen Beck, a “refounders’ movement.” Historically, the Democrat Party, founded under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, was a corrective to the Founders’ vision. They were ‘populists’ whose policies favored ‘the little guy.’ Even some who consider themselves to be conservative embrace this philosophy. But the Founders insisted that the government treat everyone equally under the law. Europe had a cast system which favored the royals according to their rank, creating a difficult life for the peasants at the bottom. But the Founders also understood and occasionally wrote about the tyranny of democracy as well, where the poor, by the sheer weight of their numbers, could persecute a wealthy minority. This is why our Founders set up a constitutional republic, respecting equally the rights of each citizen, regardless of his or her social or political stature. One cannot write policy favoring one class of citizen without disadvantaging another. Jackson’s slight tweaking to the left of the Founders’ philosophy put the Democrat Party on a trajectory which over time has predictably become radically more left.
The Republican Party was also a “refounders’ movement;” that is, it was a corrective movement to restore American policies to the guiding principles set forth by the Founders in the Declaration of Independence. These principles were to individual liberty and a limited government, frugal in its administration and respectful of the rights of individual citizens in its application. It was to be a government which, for the most part, would not be a significant factor in the daily lives of its citizens. Originally, the Republican Party was also populated by many who had dropped out of the political process. Considering their core values and historical grounding, this should be a group we can work with.
It is important that all sides pause, take a deep breath and see if we can possibly remember all that we have in common and all that we have already meant to each other. This is not the time to separate. Not only would both sides suffer, the last best hope of saving the nation and the American people will be lost, I think forever.
So why should the Tea Party engage the struggle within the Republican Party rather than start fresh? To start fresh assumes there is no lesson to be learned from two hundred years of American political history and that we are smarter than all the third partiers who have gone before us. This seems unlikely; there have been a lot of them and history is a consistent teacher for those few who are willing to learn. But what does the Republican Party have to offer the Tea Party? In a word, numbers. Most of the people voting for our Tea Party candidates are Republicans. If the Tea Party were to field candidates in a general election against both Republican and Democrat opposition, the victory would most likely go to the Democrat. This would not further a Tea Party agenda. Also, there are vast numbers of Republicans who share every complaint we have about entrenched Republican leaders. These are kindred spirits. We should rejoice in the improved numbers and work hard to replace old counterproductive Republican leaders in the primaries.
The Tea Party has been effective in putting some of their own into leadership positions. This alone is not sufficient. They need to establish themselves within the Party and Tea Party Republicans need to support them in this effort. This can only be done from the inside. One of the biggest mistakes Republicans have made is to elect truly wonderful conservatives to office and then abandon them there. George Washington did not decline to run for a third term because of term limits. He did so because of character – because he understood that nothing he could do in a third term was more valuable than to establish the principle of a citizen politician, one who serves his country and then goes back to civilian life to live under the laws he helped to establish. We love Ted Cruz today, but he has already taken some body blows in service to us. After one or, at most, two terms we need to bring him home. Elect him governor; appoint him to the Texas Supreme Court. These actions will maintain his leadership within the Party and will remove him from the toxic and corrupting atmosphere that is Washington DC.
Tea Party Republicans need to march into the Republican Party with a sense of belonging that comes from shared principles. Because the Tea Party is philosophically more nearly pure and has so many fresh troops, untainted by past political battles, it is ideally suited to be the conscience of the Republican Party. No one is in a better position to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire and we know this is badly needed within the Party.
Numbers are not the only thing Republicans have to offer the Tea Party. Structure is something the Tea Party badly needs and the Republican Party has plenty of it. This structure is used to hold power once it is gained. It is a double edged sword. This structure should be used to hold power for a principled position, but not for any one individual. It is this latter aspect which has some of the philosophically weakest Republicans entrenched in critical positions. Tea Party Republicans need to get control of this structure. Line up a series of candidates for any given political office. Elect them for one term and bring them home, then send the next one. Only a congress substantially populated by one-termers is capable of passing meaningful term limits – one or two terms max. A congressperson focused on reelection is not focused on the legislation before him. This is how holding power for a principle is more effective than holding power for a given candidate. The Tea Party must perfect this strategy.
So what does the Tea Party have to offer the Republican Party? Let’s be honest, the Republican Party has ADD. It loses sight of its principles with the regularity of a first grader losing his mittens. No one likes the constant parental reminder, but few of us would have survived childhood without it. Republican congressional leaders are constantly trying to fix what doesn’t work in the Democrats’ leftist legislation. Too often Republicans offer a big government solution from the right to counter a big government solution offered by the left. The Tea Party needs to be the parent, guiding the Republicans to the limited government solutions they constantly promise while on the campaign trail. This is a necessary and obviously thankless task which will not only save Republicans and Tea Partiers but the republic as well.
Guidance is not the only thing the Tea Party offers the Republican Party. It also offers numbers. Tea Party voting strength is not vast; however, a Republican Party which can muster 45% to 48% just needs a little boost. The Tea Party is that boost. This has been proven across the country in many races. For the Republican Party, the Tea Party is the winning edge. It would make no sense for the Republican Party to alienate this winning faction. Whether the Tea Party is seen as standing on the Republican’s shoulders or the Republican Party as standing on the Tea Party’s shoulders, victory is often available only when we join forces. See the highly scientific graphic to the right.
It makes no sense for the Tea Party to relegate itself to irrelevance by becoming yet another third party. I have edited paragraphs from this already too wordy article on the perilous history of third parties. It should be sufficient to point out the two consistent attributes of all third parties in the US. First is that they never win – NEVER! That is what makes them irrelevant. But worse, the second consistent attribute, they often cause the defeat of the party with which they have the most in common. In other words, they secure victory for the political philosophy most antithetical to their own. The most obvious recent example was in the Virginia Governors race where supporters of Obama made greater contributions to the Libertarian Party candidate than the Republican Party gave to the Republican candidate. The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, won with 47.75% of the vote. The vastly out-spent Republican, Ken Cuccinelli, lost with 45.27% and Libertarian, Robert Sarvis, took 6.52%. A thoughtful person would ask, ‘Well how many votes did the Libertarian candidate take in the 2009 election?’ The answer is ZERO; there was no Libertarian candidate in 2009. Robert Sarvis was a spoiler used by a manipulative Democrat Party which could not muster over 48% of the vote. If the Tea Party were to break-off as a third party, its only function would be to increase the number of Democrats elected to office. The wisdom and success of the Tea Party was in the realization that political power exists in the primaries, not in the general election. Let’s not lose sight of that now.
Does the Tea Party have a right to be upset with Mitch McConnell and others who have blamed the Tea Party for their own failures? Of course we do. However, being upset, even when the upset is righteous, is of little value. It is more important to realize that Mitch McConnell is not the Republican Party; neither is John McCain or Lindsey Graham. Republicans – those who consistently support Republican values of smaller government and individual liberty at the ballot box – welcome Tea Partiers into the Republican Party and will work with us to replace those in leadership positions who have lost their way. We will not win every battle but, with perseverance, we will win the war.
The only thing to be gained by the separation of the Tea Party from the Republican Party is the defeat of both. Constitutional conservatism would, in this situation, be lacking only a headstone. Republicans and Tea Partiers must join forces to restore the Founders’ ideals of liberty through limited government. United, there are many victories ahead. Can we at least agree on this?