Establishment vs Tea Party Struggle Squanders Opportunity

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The internal struggles of the Republican Party entered a new phase this week as various factions seem to be preparing for an open civil war.  The first salvo was fired by Karl Rove with the announcement of his “Conservative Victory Project”, designed to raise funds for his super-PAC American Crossroads to get involved in races where “it is important (Republicans) have a winning candidate.”

Tea Party activists were not amused, calling Rove’s measure a method for “the establishment” to protect incumbents.  And with that, another epic battle between grassroots outsiders and moneyed insiders has been joined for control of the Republican Party.

Tea party leaders are quick to point out that they are responsible for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, each presumably moving the Senate Republican caucus to a more conservative median viewpoint.  And for that, they do deserve the credit. 

Before backing Rubio, there was a general consensus among the National Republican Senatorial Committee to back former Florida Governor Charlie Crist for the seat Rubio now holds.  As that Florida campaign was forming, Barack Obama had just won a wave election making many Republicans fear they needed to run to the center to have any hope of electability, and Crist was viewed about as moderate as a Republican could come.

Tea party activists proudly point to the fact that they were not only right that Rubio was elected, but that Crist is now the Democratic front runner to face Tea Party Republican Governor Rick Scott in the 2014 elections.  Crist’s party swap is all the vindication many in the Tea Party need to fuel continued anti-establishment fervor in future races.

Yet when asked about other Tea Party inventions such as Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle, the boisterous claims of the group turn to redirection or obfuscation.  But for an honest evaluation of the conservative movement within the Republican Party, one must admit for every Pat Toomey there is a Richard Murdoch.  To pretend otherwise defies reality.

Furthermore, in Senatorial math, the unforced errors committed during the earlier battles to move the party further to the right have cost seats that should right now be in Republican hands.  Republicans had the opportunity to take control of the Senate in 2012 and instead lost ground.  Republicans have the best opportunity in a generation this election cycle based on the combination of retiring Democratic Senators and the number of contested races where Democrats hold seats in traditionally Republican states.

It is unambiguously clear that the efforts of the Tea Party have helped move the Senate to the right.  It is only slightly less clear that the efforts of the group combined with the defensive posture of “the establishment” has led to making sure the more conservative caucus has also remained a minority caucus.

The Tea Party must come to grips with the fact that they too are now part of “the establishment”.  Those within positions of power must also reach out to Tea Party leaders and incorporate ideas and renew principles that appear to have long been lost on some that may have been in Washington too long.

The two groups continuing to engage in a partisan civil war is strategically inept and lacks any maturity of vision that a national movement that hopes to outlast 2 election cycles should be expected to have.  It also will snuff out any hope that those members in “the establishment” have to ever attain majority status in the Senate or the White House – or even maintain the U.S. House.

The Tea Party needs the establishment.  The establishment needs the Tea Party.

The sooner the two sides figure out that they are in fact different arms of the same organization, the more likely that both can achieve their goals.  If instead the two decide to continue to see the other as the enemy, they will continue to battle for control of the vehicle as they drive it over the cliff into oblivion.

Life is not charitable with second chances.  Politics is even less so.  2014 provides an excellent make up opportunity for the errors committed within the party during 2012.  Internal bickering and squabbling appears ready to trump this rare but still attainable mulligan shot.


  1. Three Jack says:

    Thanks for addressing this issue Charlie.

    There is time to have the internal battle and it needs to take place. As in war, there must be a winner and a loser first, then a negotiated truce with the victor holding the better hand. To avoid this battle now will only prolong the ongoing undercurrent of discontent.

    The tea party folks operate as a splintered group with many disparate factions purporting to be part of the whole which puts them at a disadvantage against Rove and company. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year…if Rove wins, the GOP may pickup more seats in congress, but it will potentially lose a large swath of ficons…if the tea party prevails, the GOP moves closer to fiscal sanity while maybe losing a few seats needed to implement policies. Personally I’ll go with the tea party, we’ve already experienced way too many years of Rove’s form of politics.

    • Three Jack says:

      Oh yeah, one other thing; this will be a great fundraising tool for both sides, always follow the money. I just received the first email from a tea party group using Rove to scare folks into contributing.

  2. slyram says:

    “The establishment needs the Tea Party.” What would be better is for the establishment to rebuild the functional relationship between the huge Center and them. Those numbers are much larger than the TP and stuff would get done. It starts with producing a senate candidate in the tradition of the current two senators. Oh, certain candidates could drive a decent dem into the race and then you never know.

  3. ARAR says:

    great points, I believe what we need is a State Convention to elect our U S Senators. This would take the election right to the grassroots, money would not be such of great importance, we could leave with one nominee, all bloodletting would be internal, and pick a real Conservative, no matter what Karl Rove might think, We could make the ..R.. mean Conservative and if they walk like a Republican, talk like a Republican, but vote like a Democrat, the ..R.. would mean Remove…If you know your history, the 17 Amendment gave the election of Senators to popular vote, before that they were “chosen by the Legislature therof”. This was the end of States Rights as the Constitution was written to insure. Today the Senators are not accountable to anybody but the total numbers of voters in the State. not very accountable to anybody. This is also legal, the State Party Rules can be changed to make this happen. No Primary, a Convention..would also be a fun convention…

    • David C says:

      Not accountable to anyone but the voters they represent? Who, precisely, should they be accountable to then?

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Ahh….states rights. We all know that code.

        Cuz like, a dozen people, all of which except the Governor and maybe Lt. Gov are safely enconced in districts they gerrymandered to their tastes, would so much better represent Georgia collectively than the collective vote of the people. soepoguys

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Oops. That comment was to ARAR.

        In response to Davic C’s question, ARAR made it crystal clear who Senators should b accountable to—the Conservative grassroots that control of a private convention of course.

      • ARAR says:

        you have to read what is written, “not accountable to anyone but the total number of voters in Georgia”. that’s total, not each voter, but total, that’s almost 6,000,000. do you get their form letters???
        who do they answer to??? no one just 6,000,000. or maybe the ones that give them lots of money

        • Dave Bearse says:

          I’ll settle for being one of the 6,000,000. I don’t write them much, and when I do I receive their form letters. It’s head and shoulders however above them being accountable to the chosen few at a grassroots convention off-limits to me.

  4. Reconciliation is going to be hard to do as long as we have a President that has abandoned any legislative agenda to focus on driving this wedge as deep as possible before the midterms. This is his singular focus until 2014.

    • xdog says:

      I bet you’re shocked a donk president isn’t concerned with goper unity. The Kenyan bastidge.

      What changes in 2014?

  5. Scott65 says:

    “It is unambiguously clear that the efforts of the Tea Party have helped move the Senate to the right. ”
    They have done more than that…they moved the “conversation” to the right, and with billions of dollars going towards messaging (half a billion from Pete Peterson…google him if you dont know who he is), have gotten a whole lot wrong. All that they seem to be able to say when you see them on CNN or any other cable news network is “We are spending too much”. “We’re going broke” neither of which are true. Not many cant articulate past those phrases, if someone bothered to challenge them. If the spending is such a horrid thing, they should be able to articulate what exactly will happen if we stay on the same trend line we are on now, and what horrors that will cause…they wont, cause they cant. Erskine Bowles said we would have a horrible debt crisis within 2 years without a doubt…3 years ago. Peter Schiff has bee screaming hyperinflation for 4 years…none now, nor will there be anytime soon (I hear he is now saying that inflation just isnt measured correctly…laughable). Point is, for all the hysteria over spending…most of the TP fears have been wrong…except on ethics…they are very correct that we lack very many ethical leaders…and thats one area I support them.
    I think I proof read this, but always seems I make an error after “submit”…any word on an edit function for like 30 seconds after you post???

    • ryanhawk says:

      Scott gets at the heart of what I consider to be the problem with the “Tea Party” — the presence of a fair number of nuts in the tea party allows those opposed to sensible budgeting to paint all fiscal conservatives as nuts. Tom Baxter did exactly that a week or so ago in the AJC.

      There is a large difference between those theorizing about hyperinflation and pointing to the the undeniable truth of budget deficits driven by out of control entitlement spending.

      Scott if you want a serious look at the budget and spending simply watch USA INC
      or read the full report

  6. “Internal bickering and squabbling appears ready to trump this rare but still attainable mulligan shot”

    Are these struggles internal bickering, or a principled stances facing off against each other? If just bickering, perhaps a path to unity could be laid out? Any specific thoughts on HOW the Tea Party and establishment reconcile?

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    The GOP has a number of issues to deal with if it’s to pull itself together. One is unintended consequences of the paramount importance of small government for the sake of small government. One of those is perverse reward for the cause of small government when government fails.

    Georgia transportation is GaGOP failure of the establishment and TEA Party. Georgia transportation had been underfunded for close to a decade before the GaGOP TIA/T-SPLOST solution wrecked transportation funding for the forseeable future. The TEA party’s position that a couple pennies of waste warrnat opposing oppostion to a well-spent will result in other failures.

    It’s now been 10 years that the GaGOP has been in the cockpit, 8 years of it solo. I request, as I do a couple of times per year here, a list of say a half dozen to ten of the most important state and state government accomplishments of the last decade from any regular PP Republican. I have a couple of accomplishments in mind, and I’m sure I’m overlooking a couple. Thin or mediocre are probably the most complimentary applicable adjectives for any list.

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