Tea Partiers Celebrate Victories, Say Romney-Ryan Ticket Was Too Moderate
Around the State
While some are arguing Tuesday night’s election returns signaled a repudiation of the conservative “tea party” wave that swept the nation in the years immediately following the 2008 election, leaders and insiders within the movement insist they're not going away anytime soon.
“The phrase ‘tea party’ became a catch-all term for a lot of different things; but if you look at the liberty movement, the one started by Congressman Ron Paul in 2007/2008, we’re seeing more excitement than ever,” Matthew Hawes, vice president of Campaign for Liberty, a libertarian political organization founded by Paul, told Sunshine State News. “We’re seeing a lot of progress.”
While Republicans failed to retake the White House or the Senate, and several of their members in the House of Representatives lost their seats to Democratic challengers, there may be some basis to Hawes’ optimism.
Of the 87 Republican freshmen congressmen who rode the tea party wave in 2010, just nine lost their new seats Tuesday. Of the 55 members of the House’s official “Tea Party Caucus” who ran for re-election, at least 51 did so successfully.
Likewise, the libertarian conservatism represented by the likes of soon-to-retire Texas congressman Ron Paul saw several victories. Of the 17 House and Senate candidates endorsed by Paul, 12 of them were elected or re-elected, including Senate newcomer Ted Cruz of Texas and House newcomer Ted Yoho of North Central Florida.
Indeed, Hawes suggests that Republican nominee Mitt Romney failed in his presidential bid precisely because his platform and persona did not align with the tea party, and so did not present a credible alternative to what the Democrats had to offer.
“In both 2008 and 2012 the Republicans had presidential nominees who were defenders of the establishment and status quo, so it was really hard to get a lot of those same people who came out in 2010 charged up again,” he says. “The standard-bearers of the party don’t really present much of a contrast between themselves and the [Democratic] opposition. The Republican Party took a more ‘moderate’ line, instead of sticking to winning issues like getting back to the Constitution and restricting the power of government.”
A Republican-leaning consultant who served as an adviser to one of the incoming “Ron Paulian” freshmen, was more blunt in his assessment.
“The tea party got in bed with the Republican establishment and this is how it paid off,” the consultant told Sunshine State News on condition of anonymity. “They turn to a guy from Massachusetts who was the living embodiment of everything they hated in that establishment: he was pro-socialized medicine, pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage until 2006, when he began to run for president. Mitt Romney’s new-found conservatism was pure cynicism and the tea party fell for it.”
The consultant said part of the problem with assessing the future of the tea party is the apparent inability of anyone to pinpoint what exactly it stands for.
“Everyone and their mother claims to be a tea partier,” he tells the News. “Yes, you’ve got Ron Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Ted Yoho, Jimmy Duncan, Ted Cruz, Walter Jones, and a few others. But I see no evidence that the tea party, by and large, is anyone else than your typical Republican voter.
“We’ve got two parties of big government, and that’s all there is to it,” he continues. “One’s offering you butter, the other’s offering you guns. Do you want your guns, or do you want your butter?”
Abigail MacIver, director of policy and external affairs at Americans for Prosperity Florida, insists the tea party does have a definable content, if not a definite constituency.
“The tea party is not so much a group as it is a set of ideals: limited government, less taxes, and free markets; those are the principles the tea party is founded upon,” she tells the News.
“This cycle the Democrats very falsely, yet very successfully, blamed their policy failures on the conservatives who were elected in 2010,” she continues. “We’re already seeing the continued effects of the policies since Obama’s re-election Tuesday: the stock market dropping in reaction to the news of four more years of his policy, and we’re on our way to a potential downgrade of our credit rating, and thousands of jobs being eliminated.
“If this continues and the Democrats try to tax-and-spend their way out of it, just as they’ve been doing the last four years, more and more people are going to gravitate toward the limited government free-market ideals of the tea party, regardless of whether they actually refer to themselves as ‘tea partiers.’”
Hawes agrees, and says his organization will join MacIver’s in educating citizens on those very ideals, in preparation for what he hopes will produce more electoral gains in 2014 and 2016.
“In terms of the liberty movement, it’s full steam ahead,” he says. “It’s more important than ever to get the federal government back to its limited, [enumerated] Article I Section 8 constitutional powers, to get the states to assume their constitutional role to protect their people’s freedoms. We’re going to educate folks on issues like auditing the federal reserve; reforming our monetary policy; standing up for civil liberties; warning people about expanding drone usage, including domestically; health care freedom as a alternative to the current system; and talking more about foreign policy and the need to end the nation-building and foreign aid that’s getting us nowhere.”
His own Paul-backed candidate’s recent successes notwithstanding, the consultant who talked with the News was much more cynical about the tea party’s future prospects.
“Their party loyalty trumps their principles,” he opines. “The tea party will continue to be a major force so long as there is a Democrat in the White House. As soon as a Republican is in power, they’re going to go crawl back under the rock from which they came.
“Just look at Paul Ryan – a man who had absolutely no problem with big debts and big spending when it was under George W. Bush – is he a tea partier?” the consultant asks. “Some libertarian exceptions aside, so-called tea partiers are perfectly fine with big government as long as an elephant is writing the checks instead of a donkey.”
Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116.