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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Tea Party was Always About the Republicans

By: Carl Wicklander

Over at The American Conservative, Scott Galupo offers a thoughtful contribution to a conversation they're having about a recent Francis Fukuyama Financial Times column where the End of History author expressed concern about the rise of anti-statism in the GOP:

"The question Fukuyama, and the rest of us, should be asking is not whether the GOP is too anti-statist, but, rather, whether the Tea Party is truly anti-statist. I've written about this obsessively over the last two years. In summary, my opinion is this: The Tea Party was a fraudulent ideological freakout. Its adherents saw the electoral disasters of 2006 and 2008 and refused to believe that they bore any responsibility for them. And so they contrived a feeble narrative in which government, by spending too much and by forcing mortgage lenders to act like idiots, caused the financial crash. Long-term exposure to the Tea Party has shown it to be a rebranded version of the religious right with an abiding, self-interested commitment to preserving the entitlement state." 

Most of this is a pretty accurate portrayal of the movement although I wouldn't say the Tea Party was necessarily a "rebranded version of the religious right." In the early days of the movement it was essentially libertarian. Resentment against the bank and auto bailouts and the Obama stimulus was high and veteran GOP fixtures such as Bob Bennett, Arlen Specter, and most recently Dick Lugar lost their places in the party largely because they supported these unpopular measures. It might have been a "freakout" to some extent, but it also mobilized enough GOP voters to claim some scalps of the establishment.

Who also doesn't remember the video of Rick Santorum that emerged earlier this year where the former Pennsylvania senator criticized the rise of the Tea Party? Some took his remark to mean that Santorum was opposed to the entire Tea Party. Santorum didn't say he was opposed to the Tea Party per se -- only against the libertarian elements of it precisely because much of the Tea Party wasn't talking about abortion and gay marriage -- the issues a politician like Santorum exploits. It's only been in the context of the presidential primary that the Tea Party, to the extent that it even existed then, became one-and-the-same as the "religious right" because both ultimately burn incense to the GOP.

Yet the scope of Galupo's argument is correct. The Tea Party was as much a way to avoid responsibility for supporting the Bush administration as it was a reaction to Obama.

This should have been obvious. From the beginning the Tea Party at large never discussed foreign policy or the entitlement state. It was convenient to revolt against the trespasses of the new Obama administration, but everything the Tea Party was protesting could have been done against the by then, widely-discredited Bush administration too. Instead, it gave new life to a Republican Party ravaged by electoral losses without having to confront what caused them.

Some, like NRO's Jonah Goldberg, have tried to craft an alternative history where Republicans weren't thrown out of power beginning in 2006 because of corruption, a slumping economy, and an unpopular war but because they spent too extravagantly. The reason is simple: it's easier than acknowledging the elephant in the room.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: For the Tea Party, or any genuine small government movement within the GOP to be serious, there needs to be a genuine repudiation of the George W. Bush administration.

Unfortunately it isn't too likely that older folks who strongly supported Bush in 2000 and 2004 would suddenly turn into anti-government rabble-rousers. But without any repudiation of Bush internationally and domestically is it any wonder that Mitt Romney, by the standards the Tea Party set for itself, carries on their legacy? 

Carl Wicklander, Regular Columnist, THL Articles | Author's Page | Website