The game has changed

Tabitha Hale Contributor
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In the past, Republicans have generally nominated the guy who has waited his turn. So GOP nominees tend to be insiders — politicians who have learned the game, mastered it and eventually made it to the top. Needless to say, it’s hard to maintain an authentic connection to the average American when operating among the political class in Washington.

In 2008, Americans were faced with a choice. The options were a man who represented what the Republican Party had become — a 22-year senator entrenched in Washington whose “maverick” title seemed disingenuous at best — and “change” in the form of a half-term senator from Illinois who promised them the moon.

Americans were well aware of what the Washington establishment had achieved. We were $10,000,000,000,000 in debt, the economy was tanking and the establishment had decided that the way to fix things was to “abandon free-market principles in order to save it.” It wasn’t a “Republican” problem; it wasn’t a “Democrat” problem. It was a power-hungry politician problem.

In other words, they’d gotten us into this mess and no one in Washington could figure out how to get us out of it. TARP, Obamacare and bailouts had pushed freedom-loving Americans to a breaking point. Rick Santelli gave their movement a name: the tea party.

This is a group of people who were tired of being lied to by politicians. Their passion came from frustration with political games and out-of-touch elites. They are moms and business owners and doctors and blue-collar workers of all races and walks of life who were ready to take their country back and entered the fight to reclaim freedom. As a group, the focus has never been on party. It is about principle.

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently discussed this shift in the Republican Party. He noted that the enthusiasm for Rick Perry could mean a very different party is emerging. It’s hard to argue that he is wrong.

Looking ahead to the 2012 cycle, the battle for the White House will be telling. If all goes according to the establishment, Mitt Romney will be the nominee — a man who is basically Barack Obama with executive experience, who has the right look and the ability to bankroll his campaign. But if the 2010 Senate races and current GOP polling are any indication, the backing of the establishment just isn’t that important anymore.

The game has undoubtedly changed since the rise of the tea party. Citizens are paying attention and getting involved. What began as a protest movement has evolved into a boots-on-the-ground political force. People all over the country have engaged in the political process — taking over the Republican Party on a local level by campaigning, organizing and even running for office.

We are in the throes of a major shift in Washington. For the first time in history, there was pushback on a debt ceiling increase. There have been serious conversations about spending and entitlements. Establishment senators like Orrin Hatch have been forced to acknowledge that Americans are tired of Washington spending into oblivion, and are furiously backpedaling on decades of spending to save their jobs. The power that this movement wields has not waned.

The tea party is much more than the people who show up at protests. The tea party is representative of America’s core principle of freedom, and the people who are willing to fight for it. We’re not going anywhere, and whoever ends up being the nominee will be held accountable.

Tabitha Hale is the new media director at FreedomWorks.