At a time when the political winds should be at their back the Republican Party may be ill-poised to make the electoral gains conventional wisdom and history dictate they should at this fall’s midterm elections.
Nowhere was this more evident than at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, better known by the acronym CPAC. One case in point: Rep. Ron Paul, who showed outstanding fund raising ability but few votes in the 2008 Presidential campaign, won 31% of the vote in a straw poll of preference for the 2012 Presidential nomination. The 76 year old Texas Congressman beat out such luminaries and former candidates as Mitt Romney (who had won the previous three CPAC straw polls), Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee was also critical of CPAC, an event he skipped for the first time in several years, noting that the gathering had taken a more libertarian turn and focused less on conservative social issues. He also pointed out that the numerous TEA Parties had taken some of the luster off CPAC – however, over 10,000 participants registered for the event, making its 37th edition the largest ever.
There’s no question the TEA Party movement, which began with rallies about a year ago and became popularized by a nationally televised rant from CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli, has affected the GOP over the last year. While these newly-minted political advocates helped secure Chris Christie’s and Bob McDonnell’s victories in their respective New Jersey and Virginia races for governor and financially put Scott Brown in a position to be elected to the Senate, they also created a rift in the New York 23rd Congressional District race, allowing a Democrat to win there for the first time in over a century. Certainly this movement has caused GOP Chair Michael Steele no shortage of headaches during the first half of his two-year tenure.
Of course, Democrats have taken notice and are attempting to use this rift to their advantage. In Nevada, embattled Senator Harry Reid received some help as a group billing itself as the Tea Party placed a candidate on the November ballot. Organizers of the actual TEA Party movement in Nevada claim they know nothing about candidate Jon Ashjian or the ten people who are listed as the Tea Party’s slate of officers. Yet the group obtained the required 250 signatures and filed the requisite paperwork under the Tea Party moniker. Reid needs the third-party assistance as recent polls show he trails two of the leading GOP contenders, Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, by double-digits.
With a mindset of fiscal conservatism and dislike of President Obama’s agenda, those who comprise the TEA Party movement seem like the Holy Grail of supporters for the Republican Party. But many in the GOP establishment dislike the libertarian streak present among TEA Party participants while social conservatives like Huckabee fret their pet issues will continue to get short shrift. And TEA Party protesters themselves dislike many Congressional Republicans who supported unpopular Bush-era policies and entitlements, dismissing them as “Democrat-lite.”
Perhaps herding cats would be an easier task, but to win in November the Republicans will have to walk the tightrope of appeasing their existing base while integrating the TEA Partiers by appealing to their fiscal side. But TEA Partiers don’t mind the Republicans being the “party of no” because they fear the effect of President Obama’s statist policies, so standing firm in opposition and not heeding the siren song of “bipartisanship” with the unpopular Obama agenda may be the key to turning over Congress this fall.
Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.
With a personnel change at LFS, apparently they are holding on to these for far less time. This cleared on Tuesday – tomorrow you get last week’s op-ed.