GOP Risks Being Swept Away Unless They Adopt Tea Party Principles

In a recent blog post I wrote:

If the GOP cannot find some way to align itself with the Tea Party and its ethos, then it will be swept away.

This contention, as well as the title of the post -- "Tea Party Versus Socialist Party" -- generated a fair amount of discussion, requiring, I think, further elaboration on the ideas involved.

The political calculus is simple. Somewhere after George W. Bush's reelection, it became obvious to the conservative wing of the GOP that Bush and party elders were straying further and further off the reservation of conservative principle -- if, indeed, they had been on that reservation in the first place. The growing protest led to a sharp drop in support among conservatives and libertarians for Bush and his party, and was further aggravated by national party and presidential support for folks like Arlen Specter, as well as issues like amnesty for illegal aliens which Bush and others like John McCain pushed very hard.

The immediate upshot was the "unexpected" loss of the House and Senate in 2006 to the Democrats, as conservatives and libertarians stayed home in droves. The ultimate outcome was the crushing defeat of John McCain in 2008 by Barack Obama, as once again the conservative and libertarian segments of the GOP, otherwise known as the base, sat out the contest in even larger numbers than 2006.

I was one of those who recommended that we withhold our support from the GOP. I felt this was the only strategy that stood any chance of forcing the party to put conservative principles at the forefront of Republican policy once again. I predicted that an Obama administration with heavy majorities in the House and Senate would overreach to such an extent they would damage their own brand at least as heavily as the GOP had already tarnished their own reputation.

And -- oh, yes -- somewhere in there the tea parties began to take shape at the grassroots level. Here were groups of fiscally responsible, conservative, and libertarian citizens bent on reclaiming some space for their own principles in a world where the leadership of both major parties seemed to reject those principles in favor of minor disagreements over how quickly to advance the powers of the ever-growing (and taxing and spending) state.

Both Democrat and Republican leaderships misunderstood and mishandled the rise of the tea parties. The Democrats proclaimed the protests as astroturf (phony demos bought and paid for by GOP operatives) or, if genuine, no more than minor temper tantrums by bitter, clinging bumpkins of no political account. The GOP leadership, suspicious of what it perceived as a bumptious threat to its own dominance, tried to co-opt the tea partiers as support for precisely the same old policies the tea parties wanted to overturn.