That’s a pragmatic long-term political strategy — but one that doesn’t square with the spirit of the Tea Party movement. If the party’s most effective leader becomes too entangled with the establishment, the Tea Party will be at risk of becoming lost and fading into the Republican mainstream, at least in the near term.
However, Paul’s future as a viable presidential candidate is linked to the Tea Party’s potency, autonomy, and staying power. In a presidential race, he would need an enthusiastic base that does not identify with the GOP establishment to propel him to a front-running position. Politically, Paul needs the Tea Party as much as the movement needs him.
The Tea Party understands that America’s shared future is, and always has been, linked to freedom in all ways, in all shapes and forms. Its devotion to that most holy American principle is necessarily predicated on limited government at every level and the devolution of power to the individual. It is an ideology that appeals to all of humanity, regardless of race or gender, and it is the only principle that will allow the United States to prosper through the coming decades and centuries. It is also the standard that will grant the nation the ability to compete against the almost certain challenge from China in this century.
If the GOP is to appeal to the majority of the nation’s citizens and compete effectively in future elections, it will have to embrace the all-freedoms ideology that animates the Tea Party. And to accomplish that feat and overcome the doubts held by many Americans toward the GOP, the Republican Party will need the credibility of a strong, vibrant Tea Party as its vanguard. If Paul can convince the GOP he can deliver that prize, he will be in a strong position to become a leading voice in the emergence of a new Republican Party that appeals to a broader demographic base.
First, though, Paul will have to take leadership of the Tea Party. The movement needs his direction if it is to make the transition into a party of economic and social freedom with greater autonomy from the GOP. By providing that leadership, Paul will help preserve and grow the movement — and in the process, bring himself closer to the White House.
Dave Banks (firstname.lastname@example.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.