Will the Tea Party movement reshape the Republican Party?

The following is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher on "The Tea Party Movement" by Peter Katel, March 19, 2010.

It remains to be seen whether the Tea Party can foment national political change. But some political observers think the movement is well-placed to drive the GOP rightward, especially on economic policy issues. Others say it's a fringe faction that ultimately will lose steam.

One outcome is fairly certain: The Tea Party movement would be seriously undercut if it evolved into a third political party — historically the route taken by new movements that want to broaden the national debate. Most Tea Party activists argue against such a move. “If you create a third party you guarantee that it's going to split Republican votes and guarantee socialist Democrat victories,” says Right Wing News publisher Hawkins. He predicts that the Tea Party instead will effectively take over the GOP.

To be sure, the prevailing view in liberal circles is that the Republican Party has already moved far to the right. Even some senior Republicans are delivering much the same message.

“To those people who are pursuing purity, you'll become a club not a party,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Politico, a Washington-based online newspaper, last November. He spoke following the failed attempt by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman to win a congressional seat in upstate New York, replacing the Republican incumbent, who was judged by the party establishment as too liberal. (Democrat Bill Owens won the seat.)

“Those people who are trying to embrace conservatism in a thoughtful way that fits the region and the state and the district are going to do well,” Graham said. “Conservatism is an asset. Blind ideology is not.” [Footnote 15]

Some Washington-based conservatives question the possibility that any movement based on political principles can exert deep and lasting influence on the political process, where fulltime participants tend to act as much — or more — from self-interest as from ideology.

A movement that channels itself into a party inevitably suffers the dilution of its ideas, a conservative writer argued during the February panel discussion in Washington organized by the America's Future Foundation. “Politics is a profession, and the temptation, once we're in charge, is to say, ‘We're going to fix everything, we're going to solve everything,’ not realizing that people involved in these parties are human beings and susceptible to compromise,” said Kelly Jane Torrance, literary editor of the Washington-based American Conservative magazine.

The absence of a Tea Party institutional presence makes its absorption by professional politicians inevitable, she added. “People seem to need a charismatic leader or organizer or an institution, which is why I think the movement is basically being eaten up by the Republican Party,” she said.

But some Tea Party activists argue that promoting their ideas within the GOP is essential if the movement is to avoid being marginalized. “There's got to be communication with the political party establishment,” says Karin Hoffman, a veteran Republican activist from Lighthouse Point, Fla. “The Democratic Party has done everything to ridicule the movement,” she says, while the GOP platform “matches what the grassroots movement feels.”

Hoffman orchestrated a Washington meeting this February between 50 Tea Party-affiliated activists and Republican Chairman Steele. Hoffman says she's on guard against the danger of Tea Party activists becoming nothing more than Republican auxiliaries.

“I've not been happy with how Republicans have behaved,” she says, citing the reduced-price system for prescription drugs under Medicare that President Bush pushed through in 2003. “We don't need an increase in government.”

Disillusionment with Bush is commonplace among tea partiers, who tend to have been Bush voters in 2000 and 2004. The shift in their support — or, alternatively, their view that he abandoned principles they thought he shared with them — underscores the potential obstacles to reshaping national parties. “Even with a relatively diffuse organization, they can have influence just because of visibility, and can pull conventions and rallies,” says Sides of George Washington University. “But that's not a recipe for transformational change.”

Sides cites the history of the Club for Growth, an organization of economic conservatives that rates lawmakers on their votes on taxes, spending and related issues. “No one would say that the Club for Growth has been able to remake the Republican Party,” Sides says, “but it has exerted influence in certain races.”

Republican consultant and blogger Soren Dayton disputes that view. “If you look at the electoral and policy successes of the conservative movement — look at the Republican Party,” Dayton said at the America's Future Foundation event. “Abortion, guns and taxes are settled issues. If you're an activist on these issues, the point is actually changing the minds of Democrats.”

The reason for that ideological victory is easy to identify, Soren said. “We're winning these [electoral] fights on the ground because the Republican Party is solid — because it's been taken over in certain significant ways by conservatives.”

The Issues

* Does the Tea Party represent only a narrow segment of the population?
* Will the Tea Party movement reshape the Republican Party?
* Does the Tea Party attract conspiracy theorists?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "The Tea Party Movement" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

[15] Quoted in Manu Raju, “Lindsey Graham warns GOP against going too far right,” Politico, Nov. 4, 2009.


Anonymous said...

“If you create a third party you guarantee that it's going to split Republican votes and guarantee socialist Democrat victories,” says Right Wing News publisher Hawkins.

And yet, voting Republican will only ensure socialist Republican victories.