Opinion

Sen. Paul is Tea Party’s best hope for political power

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Dave Banks
Policy Adviser, Heartland Institute
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      Dave Banks

      Dave Banks (dbanks@usawed.org) is a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute and the director of D.C. operations for the Alliance of Wise Energy Decisions (AWED), an informal coalition of Tea Party activists focused on energy and environment policy.

The Democratic Party’s triumph in November brought an abrupt end to the honeymoon between the GOP and the Tea Party, and now, like any fiery romance that unexpectedly turns sour, there’s a lot of finger-pointing as to what went wrong and who’s to blame.

Many GOP political pundits pin much of the responsibility on the Tea Party, specifically for its role in defeating GOP incumbents or establishment candidates who would have probably won in the general election. For Republicans, partisan control of Congress and the White House is the goal, and any win that helps achieve that goal is a good win, regardless of the candidate’s ideological purity.

The Tea Party sees things differently, believing that the GOP has failed because it lacks vision, which has resulted in the nomination of too many establishment candidates who cannot communicate the need for reform. And because most Americans understand the role the GOP has played in creating our fiscal problems, it is difficult for voters to trust a candidate who has long been embraced by the Republican mainstream.

From the beginning, those variances in political strategy were irreconcilable in many ways. But both sides entered the marriage willingly, appreciating the potential political advantages that each side could gain by sticking with the relationship.

The Republican Party, vanquished by the Obama revolution, was drawn to the Tea Party’s ability to motivate the base, viewing the movement as a way to reverse its recent political setbacks and create White House jobs and Hill committee chairmanships for GOP elites. Establishment Republicans thought that Tea Party members of Congress would abandon their drive for “radical” reform once they came to appreciate the benefits of “team playing.”

Tea Party leaders, however, felt that they could change their mainstream partner for the better, either by gaining voluntary converts to their brand of reform or by forcing the establishment to abandon fiscal irresponsibility. Because most Tea Party supporters had voted for the GOP in the past, many naturally believed that most other Republicans, including GOP elites, could be rehabilitated in a 12-step program.

After the 2010 election, things seemed to be on track, and establishment Republicans were willing to tolerate the boat-rocking of the Tea Party’s representatives. For its part, the Tea Party saw its strategy of increasing its numbers in both houses of Congress unfolding.

But with Obama’s re-election, the establishment’s patience evaporated and the “marriage” went south. One could surmise that political necessity will force reconciliation, but this relationship may not recover. The GOP and Tea Party have serious disagreements. That’s the 800-pound gorilla that few people have the courage to acknowledge openly.

The Tea Party is anti-establishment, offering a brand of political radicalism that would unravel centralized government. Its economic philosophy stands opposed to the Keynesianism long embraced by the GOP. Moreover, the movement calls for the devolution of power from any government — federal or state — to the individual. That type of devolution of government power is naturally aligned with social freedom, which explains why many Tea Party supporters, despite their private views, are publicly neutral on social issues.