The perpetual tension between the Republican Party establishment and the Tea Party – also known as the conservative base of the party – is the last thing we need at a time when liberal governance is in a disastrous free-fall and the nation is clearly open to a change back to a more conservative direction. Sadly, such internal recriminations are to some degree inevitable when you’ve done a lot of losing.
And that’s what the Republican Party has been doing lately. The 2010 Red Wave election that took back the House and gave us control of many statehouses across the nation was nice, but the Republican Party has gotten clocked in every other election – both presidential and mid-term – since the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. When that happens, you’re going to get a lot of finger-pointing and blame, especially if you lack a strong leader who can bring all factions together and put a stop to it.
The Republican Party doesn’t have that strong leader right now, so the internal squabbling continues at a time when there is actually much we can agree on. We agree on the horror of ObamaCare. We agree on the folly of Obama’s spending, taxing and regulatory policies. We agree that Obama’s policies are killing jobs. Those basic agreements alone should be enough to unite us and leave other issues to deal with another day.
But that’s not the case, and with a few caveats, I believe the party establishment has created its own problem here.
When you talk to congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, or party leaders like Reince Priebus, or strategists like Karl Rove, or business leaders like Tom Donohue, they always claim they share the policy goals of the Tea Party. They just disagree with the tactics. They want to nominate more “electable” candidates. They want to use legislative tactics that invite less political risk than government shutdowns. They get upset with the Tea Party for pushing these tactics and they claim that because of these tactics the Republican Party suffers in its popularity ratings as a result.
Let me tell you why I have little sympathy for the establishment on this: If the establishment shares the policy goals of the Tea Party as it claims, it can hardly blame the Tea Party for wanting results, and that is something the establishment has failed to deliver for quite some time now. They say they want to control spending, but spending is out of control. They say they want to cut taxes and slash regulations, but taxes and regulations are crushing the economic engine of this nation. They say they want to get rid of ObamaCare, yet ObamaCare is here and wreaking havoc on this nation’s health markets. They say they want to stop the nation’s mounting debt, but in spite of the fact that they control the power of the purse with a majority in the House of Representatives, they continue to allow debt to mount.
I understand their power is limited, but their job is to win elections and then, having gained power, govern effectively. It’s been a very long time since they’ve put that combination together and made it happen, so they have a lot of nerve criticizing the Tea Party for being dissatisfied with the results. If the establishment wants peace with the Tea Party, what it needs to do is prove its commitment to the policy objectives it claims to share with the Tea Party. If a government shutdown isn’t the way to stop ObamaCare, fine, how do you propose to stop it? If refusing to pass Harry Reid’s continuing resolutions isn’t the way to reduce federal spending, fine, how do you propose to reduce it?
And I’ll tell you this right now: If the only answer you ever give is that you want to play nice and not upset anyone until the election, because then if you win you promise you’ll do all this, the Tea Party isn’t going to be satisfied with that because they’ve heard all that before. The Tea Party wants to see some fight now. If you don’t want to fight because you’re afraid of being criticized by the media, I don’t know what to tell you. The Tea Party will continue not to believe in you, and I don’t blame them.
Now the Tea Party can up its game too, and I say that as a staunch Tea Party supporter. For one thing, activists in the Tea Party have to recognize the limits of what can be done in the present circumstances. I absolutely agree that Republicans on Capitol Hill need to fight harder than we’re used to them fighting. But when the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, it’s simply a foregone conclusion that a final deal that’s reached won’t give us everything we want. I think McConnell and Boehner can accomplish more than they have, and the Tea Party should keep the pressure on them to do that. But the final result in the current Washington configuration isn’t going to be everything conservatives want. It really doesn’t help to start attacking people as traitors to the cause because they agree to a deal that is simply the best that can be done under the circumstances.
Ronald Reagan used to say a person who agreed with him 80 percent of the time was not his 20 percent enemy. There are people I mostly agree with who disappoint me on a few issues, but I don’t think we need to be tossing around the term Republican In Name Only as an attack on people who really do mostly support conservative priorities. A real RINO is a person who wears the Republican label but usually votes and acts in a Democrat-friendly way. We have some of those in Washington right now, and they deserve to be called out. But there has to be a better way of viewing Republicans who aren’t quite as conservative as you like, but are still our allies the vast majority of the time.
Finally, the Tea Party values ideological purity very highly in choosing nominees to support. I agree, all things being equal, that the more conservative a candidate is, the better. And for the most part, the candidates the Tea Party supports are very capable too. But it’s wise to be careful about getting behind people who check the right boxes but don’t demonstrate the skill or the experience to win a race, let alone function as an effective legislator.
The GOP has lost winnable races in the past several years because of candidates like this. That should never have happened. You don’t nominate a candidate who takes the right issue positions but clearly isn’t ready or capable enough to do the job.
Now I understand the Tea Party’s disinclination to trust the establishment. It is in many ways entirely justified because the establishment has failed to solve the nation’s problems. But what the Tea Party needs to do all the time is what it actually does most of the time, which is to back candidates who are both conservative and highly capable. That will take away the Rove-ian claim that the Tea Party wants to nominate insane candidates who can’t win. There are plenty of good conservatives who have performed well in local or state offices, and are ready for the big time. Nominate them. Or find accomplished business people who are smart and understand public policy, and are ready to make the leap. Nominate them.
That will take away the establishment’s excuses, which would be a very good thing. Conservative ideas are the solution to this nation’s problems, and the Republican establishment has no business attacking the base of its own party for wanting them – especially since this same Republican establishment claims to want the very same thing. Establishment, I promise you, if you really fight for these ideals, the Tea Party will back you. When all the Tea Party sees is one strategic retreat after another, accompanied by promises that someday you will really make conservative policies happen, things are going to stay exactly as they are.
And while I believe everyone here can up their games, I am not going to blame the people who ultimately just want to see results and are tired of not getting them.