Mississippi Runoff a Generational and Philosophical Battle

In that sense, McDaniel's philosophy -- and that of other Tea Party candidates -- appears to be evolving. What is possible? What is practical? What can truly be accomplished? Coming off his successful campaign over Eric Cantor, Daniel Brat announced six unifying principles with which all Americans can agree.

"These principles, are in brief," Brat said, "first, a commitment to the free market system. Second, equal rights and equal justice for every single person in this nation under law. Third, fiscal responsibility for all levels of government. Fourth, adherence to Constitution of the United States of America to protect our liberties. Fifth, we believe peace is best preserved through a strong national defense. Sixth, and finally, we believe that faith in God as recognized by our founders is absolutely essential to the moral fiber of this greatest nation on the earth."

McDaniel would almost certainly agree with every one of those principles. But so would Thad Cochran (as long as Mississippi wasn't shorted on federal spending). What McDaniel and Brat are saying is, basically, we're through giving lip service to these principles. We're dead serious about adhering to them and we're putting Washington on notice that we will implement our philosophy to the fullest extent we can.

Of course, the Democrats will have something to say about that. But beyond the expected opposition from Democrats, how do you turn those principles into an agenda? How do they play as a legislative program? Repealing Obamacare and most of the other nightmares the president has saddled the country with is a start -- if it can be done. After that, how do you translate principles to action?

The Tea Party has been so busy going to war against the establishment, President Obama, and the Democrats that they have yet to flesh out what their closely held beliefs mean in practical political and legislative terms. If it is not to be politics as usual in Washington, it's got to be something else. What?

The philosophy that Cochran and the traditional Republicans stand for is based on the post-World War II consensus that emerged regarding the role of government in American society -- an activist government that refereed the free market, worked to end discrimination, created conditions for a healthy economy, and spent lavishly on the inner cities. That consensus has frayed as government has gotten bigger and bigger, imposing itself on Americans' daily lives in ways unimaginable even 60 years ago. The role of Republicans in recent decades has been to lop off a few zeroes from budget bills, contribute to the growth of government by getting funding for pet projects at home that please the voters, and ignore the consequences of voting for thousands of federal programs that make a mockery of the Constitution and its overriding principle of limited government.

It hasn't worked. After throwing trillions of dollars at problems like poverty, inequality, the rural poor, and other social concerns, we're just about where we were 36 years ago when Thad Cochran took office. And what we've lost because of the growth of government far outstrips the niggardly gains that have been made in reducing the percentage of Americans dependent on government for their survival. There has to be another way, and even though the Tea Party is, at times, incoherent about it, they think their way is better.

Tea Party populism is part of a new, emerging Republican consensus that rejects all that Mr. Cochran represents. If Mr. McDaniel wins on Tuesday -- and it appears that he will -- he will have an opportunity to turn those principles enunciated by David Brat into actionable legislation. It won't happen overnight. It may even take decades. After all, we didn't get in this mess after one or two elections. But if Republicans can avoid self-immolation, it's possible that the tide of history over the last 100 years that has seen the rise of progressivism and the relentless subjugation of the individual to the collective can be halted and maybe even reversed.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)