Tea Partiers continue to flex muscle

I find the tea parties that sprung up around the country last spring an absolutely fascinating exercise in political involvement. Though the media and left-wingers are quick to denounce it as “astroturf,” but the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who came up with the term and who puts what events together, run-of-the-mill activists across the country have made it into something much bigger than anyone could imagine. Right now, many groups are getting involved in congressional primaries to turn out a candidate close to their values. Indeed, in our own backyard tea partiers are promising to have a series of debates in Virginia’s Fifth District.

“Our intent is to make the process fair and accessible to all viable candidates and give them the opportunity to prove themselves to the citizens of the 5th District,” Lynchburg TEA Party leader Mark Lloyd said in the release.

Lloyd noted that many TEA party members are independent from the GOP. “…Nevertheless, as Americans we intend to make our voices heard and we intend to be part of the political process.”

Lloyd points out correctly that the are a number of independent conservatives in the effort–however, in speaking to some of these people I find that many are former Republicans who just couldn’t tolerate the party’s full fledged support for certain types of candidates. However, these people appear to have still come out in droves for Bob McDonnell this past year. Therefore, they are drawn to the Tea Parties first as a way to get involved then jettison again if they get burned. The label is so potent that Rasmussen did a poll that discovered that an actual Tea Party would beat the Republican Party in a congressional match-up:

In a three-way Generic Ballot test, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Democrats attracting 36% of the vote. The Tea Party candidate picks up 23%, and Republicans finish third at 18%. Another 22% are undecided.
Among voters not affiliated with either major party, the Tea Party comes out on top. Thirty-three percent (33%) prefer the Tea Party candidate, and 30% are undecided. Twenty-five percent (25%) would vote for a Democrat, and just 12% prefer the GOP.
Among Republican voters, 39% say they’d vote for the GOP candidate, but 33% favor the Tea Party option.

Obviously, dissatisfaction with the Republican label remains so high that nearly a third of people who call themselves Republicans would consider a third-party. No wonder state Republican parties, such as Colorado and Virginia’s, have taken great care to listen to the tea party movement and co-opt its focus on individual liberty and fiscal issues.

I still maintain that the Tea Party is more of a re-branding and re-ignition of a staid conservative movement that became unprincipled early in the decade. The Republican Party can defuse the threat of conservative independents bolting or staying home by a) keeping leaders like Sarah Palin from seeing hope in a third party and b) by not only promising but delivering on issues key to the identity of tea party activists.

As Norm pointed out over at TQ:

It may indicate that Republicans, if they hope to be successful in 2010, would be wise to pay attention to the activists back home who are protesting, organizing, forming PACs, lobbying for legislation and more under any number of tea party banners.

Or they could ignore it. In which case, they had best hope they packed along an extra pair of socks…because it gets mighty cold and damp in the political wilderness.

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