Tea party groups across the land have been handed a giant dilemma by the race in Massachusetts to succeed the late Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate. The irony is that the interest in the race is at least in part based on an issue that Kennedy was obsessed with: creating a socialized health care system.
The reason this problem exists for tea party members is that with a non-Democrat in the seat, Senator Harry Reid would not have the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority he is enjoying right now. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the Republican candidate Scott Brown — such as the fact he voted for RomneyCare.
RomneyCare is socialized medicine for Massachusetts. Worse, Brown is certainly not the kind of limited-government, fiscally conservative candidate about which tea party members are so keen. Rather, he is a typical big-government Republican.
The tea party movement nationwide is obsessed with ObamaCare and wishes to do everything it can to stop it. This is where they come into a bit of a problem. There is a tea party candidate running as an independent. He is confusingly and ironically named Kennedy (Joe), although he is not related to the clan at all. He is a conservative who believes in limited government — the type of candidate that most tea party types across the land profess to want to see elected. (Here is a good examination of how they differ on the important issues of the day.)
Needless to say, people in the Northeast, presumably like everywhere else in the U.S., do not like being told what to do. However, there are some in the movement who are basically ordering conservatives in Massachusetts to vote for Brown despite his shortcomings. There are others who respectfully disagree and consider that voting for Brown is not a good idea.
Those of us in the Northeast are used to this type of browbeating from the Republican Party when it comes to voting for such formidable RINOs as Maine’s Susan Collins or, worse yet, Olympia Snowe. We are told that we must vote for them in order to preserve a Republican vote in the Senate. This is despite the fact that they vote infrequently with the Republicans and are far more likely to side with the Democrats. Needless to say, Republicans, though interestingly not the RNC, are urging all right-of-center types to vote for Brown.
Things could go very badly for the tea party people around the U.S. if they push this too hard. First of all, Brown could lose despite all their efforts. They will have expended lots of energy and lost quite a bit of goodwill in the New England tea party movement for nothing. Secondly, it looks as if the Democrats would ignore a Brown victory for as long as they can and refuse to seat him until ObamaCare has been passed. In either case, the “vote Brown to stop ObamaCare” meme will look rather foolish. And considering that Brown voted for RomneyCare and is proud of the fact, he could be open to voting for national health care reform if changes are made to the bill (just like Olympia Snowe).
The full-court press to browbeat Massachusetts tea party members coming from across the country and demand that they give money and time to the statist Republican could backfire. It could make it seem like the tea partiers are just frustrated Republicans rather than independent actors. Do conservatives of all factions want to invest their political capital for a candidate that is not really conservative anyway?
Fortunately the national tea party groups — at least the ones not obviously Republican fronts like Tea Party Express — have stayed well clear of this race for the most part. They have wisely not endorsed either candidate of the right. However, some tea party leaders around the country have not been so wise.
The tea party movement has got to learn to weigh the possible long-term downside against the potential short-term gain. There are no dead certainties in politics, especially with the current crop of Democrats in charge. The tea party movement needs to learn to keep its powder dry until it’s most effective to open fire.
Ultimately, those pushing for Brown from the tea party movement are taking a very large political gamble. It may in fact pay off, but the risk it won’t could have dire consequences and affect their non-partisan credibility. Is possibly having the one vote to defeat ObamaCare (in its current form) more important than the long-term viability of the movement as a whole?
I, for one, am glad I am not in the state to vote in the upcoming special election. It’s a tough call for any right-of-center type. What would you do and are you sure you would make the right decision?