Republicans Versus Republicans Versus Democrats

Although we rarely bother to glance at Facebook, we couldn’t help taking a peek at the disconsolate postings of our left-wing friends after Tuesday’s many Republican victories in the mid-term elections. As Conan the Barbarian famously said when asked what is best in life, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.” We also tuned into our usual right-wing talk radio fare and visited the usual right-wing internet publications, hoping to share in the expected exultations, but found a rather muted response.
Much of the credit for the Republicans’ remarkable success must be attributed to Kentucky Senator and presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, New Jersey Governor and Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie, and former Bush administration political boss and current activist Karl Rove, along with countless unknown professional party operatives, which takes much fun out of the victory for a certain sort of Republican. Even as the GOP celebrates a historic victory over the darned Democrats it continues to endure a civil war between the ideologically pure and rabid “tea party” and the pragmatic and wimpy “establishment,” and the most dedicated adherents to the former faction regard the aforementioned gentlemen as the worst of the latter faction. The Republican congressional leadership’s post-election assurances that there will be no government shutdowns or threats a credit default or any of the sort of brinksmanship championed by the more confrontational conservatives has already exacerbated the resentment, and their failure to acknowledge the dutiful support of their intra-party rivals has been ungracious and unhelpful, so a shared victory does not seem likely to result in a Republican rapprochement. Which strikes us as unfortunate, as we are sympathetic to both sides of the battle and can easily envision a successful alliance.
The “tea party’s” paranoid panic about the state of the nation strikes us as entirely appropriate, and we share its belief that desperate times call for desperate measures. From our prairie perspective McConnell has been too timid and too moderate in his leadership of the party’s Senate minority, the timidity and moderation of Boehner’s speakership has been all the more infuriating because he led a majority, Chris Christie is a Republican only by the appallingly low standards of the northeastern states, Rove deserves as much blame as anybody for the deficit-spending and governmental growth of the Bush years, and we regard those professional operatives with the usual Republican disdain for slick college kids in fancy suits who attend inside-the-beltway cocktail parties. The “tea party” also embodies the bedrock principles of low taxes and limited government and individual liberty and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that we believe are the only way out of the current crisis, and we hate to think how Tuesday’s results might have turned out if like-minded conservatives had decided to sit out the election for spite rather than pitch on the effort for the candidates that weren’t entirely to their liking.
Still, we’re magnanimous enough to offer some thanks for the shrewd moves the “establishment” has made against the heated advice of their internecine adversaries. The government shutdowns and budgetary brinksmanship that the “tea party” advocated were well-justified and caused little harm in our opinion, but there’s no denying the damage it always does to Republican poll numbers and it’s a lucky break it was all long forgotten by the mid-term elections. A constant onslaught of primary challenges by newly enthused “tea party” insurgents had the salutary effect of dragging the Republicans in a more steadfastly conservative direction, but it also yielded more than a few rank amateurs who blew winnable races with amateurish gaffes that were used to tarnish the party at large. An all-out effort by the “establishment” to winnow out such troublesome candidates include a heavy-handed effort to choose a more polished state government veteran over the more fire-breathing “tea party” choice in Colorado and a downright disgusting effort to oust a “tea party” candidate prone to indelicate remarks about race in Mississippi by the most blatant appeals to cross-over-voting black Democrats, but it also resulted in a very impressive slate candidates across the nation. This time around the best efforts of a biased media couldn’t find any notable misstatements by Republicans to endlessly replay on the late night comedy shows, and all had to admit that such Democrats as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and Kentucky senatorial hopeful Allison Lundgrem Grimes And Wisconsin gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke had descended into farce. Those right-wing talk radio hosts kept insisting the Republicans present an attackable agenda of what they are for, but the election results suggest they were right to focus on the widely unpopular things they opposed.
What the warring factions of the Republicans are opposed to is pretty much all they agree on, after all, and that should be sufficient for an effective if uneasy alliance. Given the unfortunate reality that we confront six years into the age of hope and change, holding off the most outrageous actions of a president emboldened by his lame duck status will be conservatism’s most pressing challenge and one that we expect to have a unifying effect. There’s a chance that the Republican leadership will go wobbly on the president’s promised executive actions regarding illegal immigration, in which case the civil war will be on again with a righteous vengeance, but otherwise the congressional leadership should be able cobble together an agenda palatable to the conservative base. Prompt movement on the Keystone Pipeline, cutting the corporate tax rate to a globally competitive level, repeal of certain problematic portions of Obamcare and promise of an eventual repeal of the whole damned thing, and of course resistance to whatever executive actions the president might sign regarding climate change or social justice or whatever other trendy cause he embraces should satisfy every sort of Republican and play well with the general public. With the shrewd professionalism of the “establishment” and the intellectually sound enthusiasm of the “tea party” peaceably combined, and with a promising slate of potential presidential candidates, the Republicans might stand a chance of restoring order in ’16. At such point we’ll have to fight it out between low taxes and even lower taxes and limited government and even more limited government, and there will be the usual squabbles about tactics, but we’d prefer that to fighting with Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Toasting the Tea Party With a Beer

Here’s wishing a happy fifth anniversary to the “Tea Party,” even if we’re not quite convinced of the date.
This whole “Tea Party” phenomenon has never been defined to our satisfaction, much less given a precise time of birth, yet activists associated with the movement and their antagonists in the media both marked Thursday as an anniversary because it came five years to the day after CNBC reporter Rick Santelli delivered a stirring on-air rant against the “stimulus package” and the rest of budget-busting spending that was going on in the heady early days of the Obama administration and his Democrat-dominated Congress. So far as we can tell the “Tea Party” stands steadfast against debilitating public debt, even more steadfastly against attempts to eliminate it with higher taxes, and holds an instinctive suspicion of big government even when it is on solid fiscal footing, which is a perfectly sensible philosophy that pre-dates the invention of the on-air ran by several centuries and has been an essential component of America’s politics since before the founding of the republic, but we suppose Thursday seemed as good a time any to take stock of the movement.
That such unfriendly media as The New York Times felt obliged to mark the more-or-less made-up anniversary with grudgingly respectful coverage indicates that the “Tea Party” packs a powerful political punch. The movement was responsible for the Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and holding it ever since, which has resulted in somewhat smaller deficits and thwarted further “stimulus packages” as well countless other attempts at Democratic mischief on issues ranging from gun control to immigration. Such modest accomplishments have not satisfied the “Tea Party” faithful, who are currently working to purge the party of House Speaker John Boehner and any other insufficiently rock-ribbed Republicans, but judging by much of the anniversary coverage they seem to have at least succeeded in forcing the party far enough to the right to infuriate the left. As moderate and weak as Boehner often is, and no matter how preferable a more conservative and confrontational leader might be, the “Tea Party” should take some solace in the certainty of how very much worse a Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have been. Boehner would have been worse without “Tea Party” pressure, too, and we happily predict it will continue to pull the party in a properly conservative direction.
It’s an unusually good wind that blows no ill, however, and for all its positive effects on America’s politics the “Tea Party” has caused occasional problems for conservatism. In the 2012 election the “Tea Party” was helpful in retaining the House majority and bolstering the totals of several Senate candidates, but also cost the party some winnable seats by choosing not-ready-for-prime-time candidates in Delaware and Connecticut and Nevada and Missouri and assorted House districts, and we suspect they were among the missing McCain voters who cost Mitt Romney a chance to defeat Barack Obama and thus make all things possible. The “Tea Party” infused the Republicans with a much needed spirit of amateurism in its very best sense of doing something for the love of it and not for financial gain, which of course is how a democracy is best achieved, but too often its newly-enthused candidates were simply amateurish in the worst sense of the word. The “Tea Party’s” aversion to professionals is understandable, even laudable, but as it purges the ranks it would do well to remember that a certain amount of professionalism will be needed against such a formidable pro outfit as the Democrats. A characteristically high-minded notion of the “Tea Party” that it’s better to lose to a radical leftist than vote for a less-than-pure conservative needs to be re-thought, too, as it is likely to result in a few more radical leftists surviving the upcoming mid-term elections that would have been otherwise necessary.
Also, the “Tea Party” is yet another one of those good ideas that have suffered bad marketing. That “Tea Party” moniker was always a bad choice, as the reference to the Revolutionary Era has little appeal to a younger generation that was taught the Howard Zinn version of history and only knows the Founding Fathers as a bunch of slave-holding 1-percenters in powdered wigs, and it also provided fodder for the late night comedians to make smutty “tea bagger” jokes and portray the movement as a bunch of crazy old white men in tri-corner hats. The brave defiance of the Boston Tea Party should remain an inspiration to any freedom-loving Americans, and the contemporary “Tea Party” isn’t nearly so white as the environmental movement or feminism or most another liberal cause, even if whiteness were an inherent flaw in a political philosophy, and the late night comics can’t possibly explain in their monologues why a $17 trillion dollar debt isn’t a looming catastrophe, but that hasn’t stopped the critics from making the term a pejorative to much of the population. Freedom is always a hard sell when the opposition is offering free stuff, and the “Tea Party” has often been clumsy in making the pitch.
On the whole, however, we think the “Tea Party” has had a salutary effect on America and is likely to do even more good between now and November’s voting. The movement has stopped the Democrats from doing some very stupid things, pulled the Republicans kicking and screaming in the right direction, and perhaps even learned some of the lessons that their more weak-willed but wised-up intra-party opponents mastered long ago. We also hope those less steadfast sorts of Republicans have learned that the Tea Party’s principles of fiscal sanity, limited government, and individual liberty must prevail before or after the looming disaster. If it doesn’t, the alternative is unthinkable.

— Bud Norman