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To the GOP: Get a Handle on the Tea Party

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If the GOP learns only one lesson from it’s latest scalding by the Tea Party, it had better be this: get a handle on the ‘baggers before they put you in the country’s rearview in 2012. Last week, a Tea Party candidate played the familiar role of spoiler in a race that saw the Republican contender defeated in a GOP stronghold. Granted, the Democrat margin of victory was slim and plenty of Mediscare tactics were in play. But, the Republican would have won if the ‘bagger had not split the GOP vote.

The Republican leadership correctly identifies the Tea Party as a bigger problem than Democrat mismessaging on entitlements. They’re just not sure what to do about it. The immediate challenge for them is the fact that the ‘baggers have no national organization to grapple with. There is no official leadership or party structure. No authoritative committee to lobby.

The Tea Party has been described as a populist movement. In terms of formal association, it’s less than that. It’s a belief system embraced, with varying degrees of emphasis, by amorphous groups of local voters across the country. There is a national coalition but it’s a loose collection of self-styled conservative thought leaders with no control over Tea Party regulars. ‘Bagger candidates pop up in regions with local backing. Or the locals decide to endorse an existing contender who, by virtue of that support, is labeled a Tea Party candidate.

To be sure, national political figures like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann sometimes appear as Tea Party spokespersons. But, that’s by invitation rather than claim of right. The party is definitely a hodgepodge, which makes getting a let’s-talk-turkey handle on it difficult.

Meanwhile, although only 5 percent of the Tea Party is Democrat, it is doing more damage to the GOP than to Obama’s party. For every Marco Rubio, there’s a Joe Miller, Sharron Angle and Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell. The latter two Tea Party wunderkind blew excellent opportunities for Republicans to boot a weakened Harry Reid and claim Joe Biden’s long-held seat. Believing negotiation is capitulation, Tea Party activists insist their elected congressional representatives toe a hard-line.  But, when the game goes on with, or without you, taking your ball and going home is foolish, especially when it reduces a voting majority. This kind of stuff is enough to make the old guys living in trailers in the desert see Democrat Conspiracy stamped on every teapot.

In 2012, the ‘baggers will lack the voting power to beat Obama, but they stand a fair chance of shooting down the national GOP candidate. Undaunted, they seem to believe in the conservative radio talk show wisdom of 2008. Namely, that a Republican defeat would be good for the party. The reasoning then was that the GOP had moved too far from its roots and needed a severe course correction. Living life in the left lane for a few years was supposed to be just the jolt needed to right the party ship. The idea, then as now, is idiotic. Just look back over the past twenty nine months. Predictably, the cure has been worse than the disease, as the stimulus and ObamaCare loudly attest. There has to be a better way to fix ideological drift than Obama as president.

So, how do Republicans get a handle on the Tea Party? Keep them in the GOP fold, of course. Make Republican candidates attractive enough to support. But, there is a medium-to-large size risk in doing that: turning off independents. While the Tea Party might bring defeat to the GOP, independent votes are necessary for victory.

The answer to the dilemma is convincing enough of the electorate, regardless of party affiliation, that small ball is the smart government play. Reduce its size and power, but don’t abandon the little guy in the process. Obama’s biggest appeal is the nannyism in his big government vision, a shades-of-gray mediocracy. It shouldn’t be that hard to paint a much more attractive picture of an equal opportunity meritocracy. On the other hand, for a party very mediocre at communication, it may be too tall an order.

See you in the mirror.

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  • Cannonshop

    Ever considered that it may be possible that the “Establishment” GOP is the PROBLEM? Mass movements don’t start when things are going well, or are well run. This is spectacularly true with the Republican Party over the period from 1995 to the present, with the tipping point occurring in 2007 with the bailouts of AIG and the first TARP under Bush, and gained steam with Obama’s massive bailouts of corrupt firms and Trillion Dollar “Stimulus”.

    Maybe the volcano’s angry, because the Republicans care more about what sex a married couple are, than with, y’know, fiscal conservatism, or that the Republican Party cares more about suppressing flag burners, or endorsing prayer in school, than they do about balancing the budget or limiting our international exposure to combat zones?

    The fact is, the Religious Right is driving the bus for the GOP, and the TEA Party is everyone that is tired of letting them do that.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    C-shop –

    The Religious Right and the TEA party are more closely related than most people – including you – realize:

    Last year, Indiana governor and national tea party leader Mitch Daniels called for a “truce” on discussing social issues. But in many states, tea partyers have kept social measures in the spotlight.

    In Oklahoma and South Dakota, tea party lawmakers have proposed strict antiabortion bills. Montana has challenged gay rights, and Indiana recently passed a bill that would outlaw same-sex unions. At the national level, congressional Republicans fought to the 11th hour on April 8 to cut federal funding for abortion provider Planned Parenthood and to ban foreign aid to countries that would use funding for family planning services.

    In Texas, the first few weeks of the legislative session this year were spent passing measures like a controversial bill requiring women to have a sonogram before undergoing an abortion. The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, chairs the Legislature’s tea party caucus.

    It’s BOTH that are ‘driving the bus’ for the GOP, because they’re largely one and the same.

  • Cannonshop

    #2 Glenn, the opportunistic Religious “Right” moved to suborn it the way they did the main-stream GOP right about the time that it realized that the TEA Party was not going to just go away.

    Just ’cause they showed up at OUR party doesn’t mean they’re integral to it.

    Remember: Neo-Cons are basically tax-and-spend Democrats that don’t like Abortion or gay people. They’re not conservative, and just because a religious nanny-stater shifts to the TEA Party (easy to do, it’s not a centralized and controlled movement) to side-step being unable to get a nomination, doesn’t make ‘em integral to shit.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    Not so. The Tea Party was not suborned by the Religious Right. It can’t have been because they are so closely linked together:

    Eight out of ten Americans who identified with the Tea Party were Christians and 47 percent said they were part of the Christian conservative movement, the poll found.

    But the grassroots movement remains a small part of the population overall. Christian conservatives make up 22 percent of the population but those who favor the Tea Party only comprise half of that, about 11 percent of the population. An overwhelming majority of Americans, 94 percent, who support the Tea Party movement were white men and more than half were 50 or older, according to the survey.

    Tea Partiers have rallied around the issue of smaller government, lower taxes, free enterprise and individual freedom.

    Candidates like Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul who were backed by the Tea Party ran on libertarian values, but the Public Religious Research Institute poll found that a majority of Tea Partiers are not likely to lean libertarian on social issues. Nearly two-thirds of those polled, 63 percent, believed abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and only 18 percent supported same-sex marriage.

    In other words, Cannonshop, the Tea Party was never anything but a significant subset of the Republican party, and this subset (picture a Venn diagram) lapped over somewhat on the Libertarian side, but much more so on the Religious Right.

    And that’s not all. More than a third of the Tea Party hails from the Deep South…and the Deep South is not called the Bible Belt for no reason….

  • Cannonshop

    How depressing, I can’t argue with your sources, Glenn. Not even to churn things up, where it’s different on the local scale out here, I can’t say I’m even mildly surprised at the picture on a national level.

    Um, in case anybody (Handy?) is fuzzy, this means I was wrong, and I’m admitting it.

    I still think the problem is the nanny-staters who go a-god-bothering (or pretend to).

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    most assuredly gay and prominent libertarian is against gay marriage

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    His reservations stem NOT AT ALL from religious concerns, but he warns against inviting more State control over civil unions between gays.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I think it’s more accurate to think of establishment Republicans, Tea Party libertarians, and social conservatives as three overlapping circles. [There are probably more than three, but for simplicity’s sake.]

    They are not identical, and they are not mutually exclusive.

    Mitch Daniels may have called for a truce, but then he signed several red-meat social conservative bills lately, including withdrawing funds from Planned Parenthood.

    Rick Scott has Tea Party support, but he’s signing bills that seem pretty nanny-state-intrusive to me, like calling for mandatory urine drug testing for all state employees and all applicants for unemployment, welfare, and other state aid.

    And both Indiana and Florida have joined several other states in mandating that women seeking abortions must have a state-mandated [but medically unnecessary] sonogram, and then doctors must read a legislator-written [but medically inaccurate] script to them, designed to discourage abortions.

    Authoritarians and libertarians are sometimes the same people, depending which side of their mouth they’re talking out of on a given day.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    So if less than half (47%) of the Tea Party Movement associates itself with either the Religious Right movement or the Conservative Christian movement according to the same survey you quote,Glenn and only 18% of the total number of Tea Partiers, CHRISTIAN RIGHT OR NOT support gay marriage, then it is false to make the claim that most Tea Partiers who withhold support do so for religious reasons.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Furthermore, another prominent Libertarian expresses strong disapproval of the hypocrisy of those who are Pro-Life who have not a word to say about the slaughter of innocents abroad, those who, for instance, defend “as necessary” the bombing of homes in Afghanistan with nothing but innocent citizens with children in them.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    That’d be a prominent BIBLE BELT Christian up there in comment 10, laying out Christian conservatives in lavender.

    And the gay man who is not pro-marriage could have a word with those of you those who complain, on ONE thread, about how Christians have killed more people than any other group in history, and then they turn around and sing about Bin Ladin’s execution, and the necessity of continuing the war in Iraq, and in Libya and in Afghanistan, because “your man is in office now.” And you had been–or would have been in the case of Libya–so very against these wars when that (ptoo-ey!) Christian Bush was declaring them.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    *throws Riley and Sydney a chew toy*
    I’m sorry for barkig so loud on your thread, but one thing you might be pleasantly surprised about is the fact that I, uncharacteristically, more or less stuck to the topic of your article.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    “most assuredly gay and prominent libertarian is against gay marriage”

    so what?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Irene –

    I don’t think I ever used the word ‘most’, did I?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    OK, El Bicho, so only 18% (that’s .18) of Tea Partiers of any stripe advocate gay marriage. But only 47% of the Tea Partiers identify with Christian Conservative movements. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s make the INCORRECT assumption that 100% of Tea Partiers who consider themselves Christian and Conservative do not support gay marriage. That would mean that .53 of the Tea Partiers are NOT from the Christian Right, and of that .53 who are NOT from the Christian Right, only .53 – .18 = .35 percent are advocates of gay marriage.

    The number is higher than that though, because many of the original Tea Partiers who were also Christians, had a “live and let live” attitude toward gay marriage. I know I supported gay marriage (at the same time the gay man Justin Raimondo DIDN’T support it) because I thought gay marriage was the same as gay rights. Justin Raimondo (the gay man who wrote two of the three articles I posted) explains why he believes this is not the case.

    It is incorrect, though, to assume that all Christian Tea Partiers are against gay rights and all non-Christian Conservatives are for unlimited abortion: there are Christians and non-Christians who believe that BOTH of these are significant human rights issues. So you’d have to say that part of the 18% that approve of gay marriage ARE Christian conservatives who equate gay marriage with gay rights.

    So the “so what” comes from the fact that if the Religious Right people who are pro-gay AND pro-gay-marriage as I was, listened to the arguments of gay Libertarians like Justin Raimondo against gay marriage, even fewer than 18% of the total number of Libertarians would support gay marriage, because, ironically, more Christians would be convinced, by some of the homosexuals in the Tea Party movement, that gay marriage is not such a good deal for homosexuals.

    I’m not sure if Statists like handyguy would be convinced, but for non-Statists, Raimondo certainly makes a convincing case, particularly in the first of his articles I posted.

    In the second of the posted articles by this gay man–who by the way is passionate about gay rights here AND abroad, where the American military meddling has created sharia law in formerly gay-friendly spots, threatening not only the liberty but also the LIVES of gays–some rather unflattering similarities between the most rabidly anti-gay segments of the Moral Majority and parts of the Gay Rights movement are pointed out.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    To be fair, Glenn, I don’t believe you used the specific word “most.” And a good deal of non-support for gay rights issues IS coming from the “johnny-come-latelies” in the Tea Party. My point in the long post above is that Justin Raimondo, as a gay libertarian, would prefer that even FEWER Tea Partiers as a whole supported gay marriage.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    The first link by the gay anti-gay marriage libertarian is in #6 and the second is in #11.

    Sorry for hogging most of the real estate so far on this thread, guys. I didn’t intend to be so wordy, but I was bottling a lot of stuff in, I guess.

  • zingzing

    cannonshop’s #5 earns a good amount of respect…

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I’m glad there are libertarian supporters of gay rights, Irene, but there are not many Republican primary supporters or GOP Congressional supporters, even though both of these groups are closely listening to and being influenced by the tea party’s rhetoric.

    And tea party faves like Palin and Bachmann are also strongly socially conservative Christians who will not be uttering friendly words about homos, even though at least one of them is married to one.

    I’m sorry you feel you can sum me up and dismiss me with one word: statist. You’re a complicated lady yourself, and I’d like to think I have a couple of layers at least.

    Commenters like zing and myself end up reacting to things that others post — sometimes outlandish or factually wrong or grossly unfair nonsense. Our intensity in our responses may lead you to stereotype us. Think again.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Ok handyguy, I thought again, and I’m sorry for calling you a Statist. I didn’t realize you considered it as offensive a term as I do, not that that’s a good excuse for me to call other people names I wouldn’t like to be called myself. Um…like hypocrite… which I often apply—in a needlessly hurtful manner I realize–to people whose sanctity-of-life/stupidity-of-war viewpoint differs from my own.

    If it’s any comfort to you, Sarah Palin is no fave of THIS Libertarian. In fact, I hesitate to even call myself a Tea Partier because of her ilk…and oooh…. I am praying right now that the Lord brings so much big Alaskan game-in-season across her path that the thrill of the hunt will put all ideas of pursuing office out of her pretty little head.

    See you around!

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Political office is already out of her head. She is focused on continuing to be a highly paid celebrity — none of that, you know, job stuff where you have to get your hands dirty and answer hard questions.

    I probably am a statist — but I’m not only or completely a statist. I just want what works.

  • Clavos

    Political office is already out of her head.

    I dunno about that.

    That bus she’s currently riding around in is a dead-ringer for a campaign bus, despite her protestations to the contrary. She just had lunch (dinner?) with Trump (looking for a bankroll?), and she’s touring around in her bus hitting American hallowed spots, one after the other.

    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Gruff Trump Voice Over. “Sarah Palin, now that’s what I call a QUALITY WOMAN!”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    “She’s gonna be ‘UGE!!!”

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I would say they [the Donald and the Sarah] deserve each other, but we don’t deserve either of them.

    I do believe there is one thing she does read, and that is favorability polls. She has a 63% negative rating among suburban voters. I don’t see how that could be overcome.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Please, oh PLEASE let the GOP ticket be some combination of Palin, Bachmann, and Trump! But it won’t – much more likely, it’ll be a Romney/Pawlenty ticket.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I think Palin has a genuinely unpleasant, pernicious effect on political dialogue in this country; she brings others down to her very low level.

    But I guess we are doomed to listen to her horrid screeching whether she’s a candidate or just Fox’s sequel to Glenn Beck. Nails on a chalkboard. Aargh.

  • Clavos

    …or just Fox’s sequel to Glenn Beck.

    Surely you don’t watch Fox, handy? Hell, even I don’t.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    Maybe you don’t watch Fox, but it’s considered by 72% of your fellow conservatives to be a trustworthy source of news.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I very rarely watch Fox, but Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow et al offer lotsa fun clips of Roger Ailes’s zany crew, so I see all I want and more.