October 19, 2009

The Conflict Between The GOP & The Tea Party Crowd

A couple of weeks ago, I set off quite a little conflict when I sent a rather frank email to the husband/campaign manager of a political novice who announced her plans to challenge our incumbent GOP state rep for the GOP nomination. Now I’m not a fan of the incumbent (I was one of the leaders of an insurgent campaign to unseat him in 2008), but I thought it appropriate to explain why I believed her candidacy was flawed from the get-go, and why another committee chair had rather brutally (and perhaps a bit less than fairly) dissected the announcement email sent out by her husband/campaign manger. Needless to say, it got rather ugly before it got better. It’s a pity that I didn’t have this observation from Carol Platt Liebau to include in my response.

Given the public disenchantment with voter-ignoring, big-government-loving Democrats in Congress and The White House, next year’s elections could do much to restore some measure of fiscal sanity and common sense to Washington. But that will happen only if Republican leaders and grassroots Tea Party activists work together effectively. How – and whether – the two reconcile their different priorities and views will have profound consequences for any effort to beat back the Democratic vision of an ever-expanding, ever-more-intrusive federal government.

* * *

. . . Tea Partiers need to be realistic, and understand the limitations of political passion and zeal. Plenty of congressional districts wouldn’t support even a second Ronald Reagan, simply because they are irremediably liberal. Rather than allowing the “best” to become the enemy of the “good enough,” activists could best further their cause by supporting the most conservative candidate who can win, rather than the most conservative candidate, period – when it means that candidate will surely lose.

In the case of the novice candidate in my district has no discernable history of political involvement with the GOP, no name recognition, and no money. What she does have is a lot of enthusiasm and a few enthusiastic backers. Somehow she and these supporters expect those who have spent the last couple of decades growing a very successful county party (which did hit a major bump in 2008) to hand her the nomination because of her frequent use of the term “grassroots” as both the justification for her candidacy and the excuse for all of the missteps that she and her husband had made in rolling out her campaign.

The sad thing is that I like elements of what she and her supporters have to say. Unfortunately, we lack any indication of how hard these folks are willing to work and how long they are prepared to sustain that effort. What’s more, we have no idea how deep the commitment is to the principles enunciated in the email manifesto that I received – after all, she did vote in the 2008 Democrat primary and seems to be a political cipher before then. The notion that a political novice must earn the support of the long-time activists seemed shocking and scandalous to them.

Of course, the quote above also makes an important point that must not be underemphasized – party leaders cannot reject such insurgencies out of hand. I had several long and fruitful email exchanges with some of the supporters in which I expressed my willingness to hear more about their ideas and to find a viable candidate who we could all support, even as I argued that this particular candidate may not be the best vehicle to see those principles carried into the electoral battles ahead. We must indeed find the most electable conservative candidate to advance our shared conservative principles – but we can neither sacrifice essential principles in the interest of finding the most electable candidate nor sacrifice the essential criteria of electability in the interest of finding the most ideologically pure contender. In short, both sets of activists – the newly aroused and the long-time party regular – must be ready to meet in the middle so that we can accomplish our shared goal of advancing our shared principles. If we can’t, then we cede many of our electoral contests to those who reject our values and our policy principles.

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