For the Tea Party, principle and electability are not mutually exclusive

Sarah Field Contributor
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It has been over a week since we watched Karl Rove besmirch Delaware voters for their selection of Christine O’Donnell as the Republican Party’s Senate candidate. As we all know, Rove called her “nutty” and wondered how such a far-right candidate could possibly beat Chris Coons, a serial proponent of tax increases with his own significant baggage.

Yet, what was most shocking about Rove’s invective is that anyone found it to be shocking at all. Why would people assume that the “Architect,” a man tasked with the sole assignment of packing Washington, D.C. with Republicans, as defined by an “R” after their names, favored ideology over party fidelity? His is a perspective that identifies people by category — R or D — and does not care whether one is a Susan Collins or a Tom Coburn; the only goal is to bring a majority of Rs to Washington, DC and, to the extent possible, ensure that these Rs follow the party line once they get there.

Of course, on this last point, there is a great deal of difference between a Collins and a Coburn. But, that’s not the problem of election strategists.

With this worldview, Mike Castle makes sense. He seemed like the easiest way to 51%, which is all that a Rove cares about. Plus, Castle largely tows the party line as defined by the super-duper big issues, which — again — are really all that matter to these types when comparing Rs and Ds.

The Tea Party movement is something different. It holds fast to the oh-so-shocking view that Congressional candidates should be both electable and principled. Think of it as a matrix of “electable and principled” versus “unelectable and unprincipled.” Candidates can fall anywhere within the four quadrants depending on how electable or principled they appear to be. To a Tea Party person, or really any concerned conservative or libertarian, the ideal is obviously being both electable and principled. However, if there is a deficiency along one of these data points, the assumption is that the former should take a hit, absent any compelling reason to the contrary.

Yet, to a Rove, the matrix is electable versus unelectable. Principle is another matter entirely.

Concerned citizens, including those in the Tea Party movement, haven’t lost sight of their primary goal to hold Congress accountable to its constitutional limitations, but do realize that winning elections is the first step toward realizing an urgent reorientation of our country’s political culture. Their short-term goal of winning elections is part of a broader campaign to bring about a culture in Washington that respects its limited Constitutional role which, for Congress, means fidelity to its enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8.

It’s readily apparent — between rallies, town hall forums, and election upsets such as Scott Brown’s historic win in Massachusetts — that voters from all walks of life reject big government and refuse to fall victim to the “R” or “D” strategy of the last two administrations. It’s about principle and putting the brakes on what is, and has been, happening in Washington. The Tea Party movement is made up of smart, intuitive, and well-informed people who understand that while rallies, town halls, and the like are all important civic exercises, voting is the most direct way they can impact politics.

If you are a small business owner in Delaware who finds that you are staring down the barrel of the Obamacare gun — complete with its higher premiums and tax increases — and you hear Mike Castle say that he won’t vote for repeal, what good does a Republican majority do for you?

There’s a new matrix at play this election: concerned citizens are increasingly rejecting the GOP establishment’s push for a majority at the expense of principle. For instance, John Raese, Ken Buck, and Ron Johnson are all competitive in their general election polls — and all are in states where the Roves of the world once divined that moderation was the only road to victory. Similarly, the establishment would have you believe that O’Donnell can’t win the general election because she is too conservative, too principled. But, based on what’s happening around the country, who can honestly say that she is unelectable?

This election season demonstrates that anything is possible. And while the Tea Party is frequently willing to give principle slightly more weight than electability, it is more apparent than ever that the judgment of concerned citizens is sound on both counts. In this cycle, principled candidates are electable.

Sarah Field is the Director of Policy and General Counsel of Liberty Central, Inc., a non-profit organization whose primary objective is to harness the power of citizen voices, inform everyday Americans with knowledge, and activate them to preserve liberty.