Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why the Tea Party and GOP Did Not Swap Valentines

Some pundits have now determined that the time has come to discuss a marriage between the Tea Party and the Republican Party. While this is an interesting notion, one has to wonder if they should even date.

Well-meaning conservatives have pointed out that there might be benefits to such a romance. The Tea Party contains many energetic, grassroots people new to politics but the group lacks structure. The Republican Party is structured and offers necessary organizational and political knowledge but needs more energetic people who connect well to the grassroots. Sounds good, right?

Life is rarely as straightforward as theory and this situation follows that normal pattern. There are good reasons why the Tea Party-GOP merger will not, and should not, happen. It would be bad for both and the “fit” between the two is largely illusory and the imaginary product of those who understand neither group.

First of all these are not two political parties. The GOP is a political party, but the Tea Party is a movement. Like most movements, the Tea Party is a single issue cause. While the definition of that cause will be more narrowly defined by some, in order to include all branches of the Tea Party, the only accurate working definition is “to increase personal freedom by a reduction in the size and scope of the federal government.”

While the majority of Tea Party rallies focused more on economic issues such as taxes, spending and the government bail-outs of private companies; other groups focused on social issues related to charity (church) donations, federal funding of abortion and legislation that would weaken the family structure. The common thread is the reaction to an over-reaching, life-grasping national government that has lost all respect for the individual.

Tea Party rallies were attended by everyone from Congressman Ron Paul's supporters to American Family Association members to deeply conservative mainstream Republicans to Libertarians to independents to non-partisan social conservatives. Outside of patriotism and the goal to enhance personal freedom and reduce the size of government, Tea Party members have little in common. This is why the Tea Party cannot become a political party; there couldn't be an entire platform, only a single plank. Not only is the Tea Party unlikely to ever merge with the GOP; it cannot even merge with itself.

Other than those who are already GOP stalwarts, most Tea Party participants are unlikely to want to soon become involved in the Republican Party. For six years the GOP controlled the federal government and did little to resolve the problems that the Tea Party folks feel are crucial. Instead the size of the federal government grew, the federal debt grew and unemployment grew. While the Obama Administration makes the Bush Administration look good in comparison, the Tea Party members have not forgotten the wasted opportunities and most will be slow to forgive.

The Tea Party activists look warily at the GOP and are skeptical of its new-found resolve to reduce government. They can't be blamed for this and the Grand Old Party is on trial while its current actions are being judged. This will become more true if the GOP gains a majority in either house of Congress in 2010. Meanwhile, those in the Tea Party should be aware that they do have a strong group of allies within the GOP – the rank and file members.

Grassroots GOP members were proud of the way George W. Bush reacted to the threat of terrorism and were inclined to overlook his failures – the budget, the federal debt, the increased size of the federal government and a lack of real action on illegal immigration. They are now embarrassed at this falling away from their small government principals and love of the Constitution. They are ready to take action.

Meanwhile, GOP members are not sure quite what to make of the Tea Party members. The Tea Party's focus on libertarian economic issues sits well with nearly all conservative Republicans, but the social issues lurk in the wings and could be a source of conflict. There is also a “birther” movement within the Tea Party groups that strikes GOPers as being a little too close to those who wear tinfoil hats and obsessively analyze alien abductions.

Neither of these groups is perfect and the optimistic idealism of the Tea Party attendees contrasts with the success-driven pragmatic attitude of the GOP. A happy medium exists although not the way TV's talking heads believe.

These groups can and should work together while maintaining their independence. I look for some people to remain active in both groups simultaneously. There are at least two organizations already in existence that can act as bridges between the two groups: The Republican Liberty Caucus and the Campaign for Liberty. If the Republican Party is smart it will welcome in interested Tea Party organizers and reward them with leadership opportunities inside the GOP. A focus on shared principles and the development of mutual respect are good beginning steps.

There will be no romance and certainly no wedding between the two groups, but they have a lot in common and could begin to “hang out” together. With a little wisdom and some trust, they could eventually become friends. The other added benefit of this relationship? The Democrats and Progressives are going to hate it.


  1. wonderfully written and true to each point...keep it coming!

  2. The Tea Party should serve as a clearing house to ferret out the rats.
    To align themselves with conservatives would be to dilute the objectives.


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