I was in an interesting discussion this evening about the role TEA Partiers may be playing within the Republican Party. While there are those like Michael Steele who purportedly embrace those in the pro-freedom, pro-limited government movement on the national level (while funneling money to candidates like Dede Scozzafava) this discussion was more about the GOP at the local and state level.
Those who would like to see the Republican Party become the big tent tend to want to stretch the tent toward the middle of the political spectrum and assume that those farther right will follow because they have no other natural political home – in other words conservatives are taken for granted.
But the TEA Party movement has shown that, if those involved wanted to, they could become a movement in and of itself. Needless to say, the problem with splitting the conservative movement is best summarized in the old axiom, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” As Republicans, we cannot assume that just because a movement is grounded in many of the same principles which are supposed to guide the party that they will automatically go along to get along.
Twice in the last thirty years the conservative movement finally felt they had found their way out of the wilderness, but in the end twice they were disappointed. In 1980 Reagan gained the presidency but didn’t quite have the coattails to secure the House. And while he did get a large part of his agenda passed, the real cutting of government he envisioned had to be compromised away and shelved.
Once Reagan passed from the political scene, it was just two years into a pale pastel imitation of his bold palette that a key promise of conservatism was broken and it took two years of overreaching by his Democrat successor to bring about the 1994 Contract With America. But the potential of that revolution quickly ran into the reality of a Democratic president shrewd enough to tack just enough to the center to win reelection over a forgettable moderate candidate who was selected because it was his turn to run. By the time the GOP majority wheezed to a stop in 2006, the brand had been truly sullied into having the perception that it was barely a step right of the leftist Democrats. To this day, that’s the handicap the Republican Party labors with.
Those Republican members of Congress who dared go against a president from their own party when principle demanded it have gravitated toward the endorsement of the TEA Party movement. However, it is a little bit disheartening to stop and realize that these conservative heroes like Pence, DeMint, Bachmann, and Coburn weren’t household names prior to last year when the TEA Partiers began in earnest, yet they’ve been slogging in the trenches for a long time under a party banner which was shot to shreds through no fault of their own.
It is these people who should become the leaders of a newly reborn national Republican Party, one based on sound conservative principles put into practice. They can create an obvious contrast to the current party in power whenever they are placed into positions of governance.
On a local and state level, the change can come later this year as party leadership will be determined by September’s primary election.
It’s no secret that the Maryland Republican Party is broke and broken. Some would say that it’s broken beyond repair, but I disagree. The problem is that some of those supported by the state party have betrayed the principles of conservatism too much, taking their few crumbs by working with the majority at the expense of giving the Maryland GOP a public perception of being sellouts when the going gets tough. It’s not easy being vastly outnumbered in the General Assembly but tougher still when you can’t be assured the cavalry’s not coming in behind you.
As I say in my little disclaimer in the left column, I don’t speak for the Republican Party – but maybe I should. As I said during the discussion we had earlier, my leanings are fairly libertarian but I’m a Republican because we win occasionally and they don’t. When I stood out in the rain in front of the Salisbury TEA Party in April I saw a lot of faces I’d never seen as part of the local political crowd, but I saw a group who was willing to work and be heard. More importantly, I saw a group who agreed with pretty much the same things I did politically.
Not everyone is destined to have a political career, but now is the time for good men and women to step up and try to make a difference. At the last Americans for Prosperity meeting I noted that, even if some of those in the room filed as Democrats or Libertarians, I’d rather have a couple good choices on the ballot than have to vote for the lesser of two evils. Too often lately we’ve been faced with that LOTE choice and frankly I could tell those TEA Partiers are sick of it.
Sometimes I see people who want to start at the top and run for federal or statewide office right off the bat. Folks, I appreciate the passion but that’s a lot more than 99% of political neophytes can handle. Besides, the Republican party needs a “farm team” to develop into good statewide candidates who have a legitimate shot at winning. If you don’t like the state government the way it is, well, there are 141 Delegate seats and 47 Senate seats calling your name. Yes, we own a few of them but no one has a right to a seat just because they’re holding it. (It’s that other party which thinks so.)
There’s also a multitude of positions available locally which are crying for someone to run them efficiently. Maybe you think some various aspect of the court system is being run improperly – well, become Clerk of the Courts or Registrar of Wills and you can change that. All three local seats on the Orphan’s Court are up for grabs, too – and you don’t have to be a lawyer (but you do to be State’s Attorney.) And needless to say, there are legislative opportunities on a county level too.
We have the opportunity to seize the mantle if we choose to do so and work hard at it. Even if you think you can run the local Republican Party better than the nine of us can, you have your chance this year.
I’m not a big fan of having elections in Maryland only once every four years, but at the moment those are the cards dealt to us. TEA Partiers have to seize the opportunities presented to them now because four years is a really long time to maintain a passion for change. When the primary election comes on September 14, I want to be able to choose the best of candidates instead of the least of evils.