Party’s Over: What is next for the Tea Party movement?

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Millions of Americans turned out, some in pouring rain, on April 15th – tax day – to protest the big spending ways of Washington. It was a legitimate, spontaneous grassroots uprising the likes of which the nation has seldom seen, except perhaps in opposition to a foreign war. The trillion dollar "stimulus" bill, rapid expansion of the government control into the private sector, and the massive piling up of debt have combined to shock the middle class into action.

The mainstream news media by and large tried to ignore the tax day tea parties. But conservative media, such as Fox News and talk radio along with a more sophisticated on-line presence revealed the breath, depth, and extent of the tea party movement. It was real America – the folks who actually work, produce and drive our economy – taking the first steps toward reclaiming control of a government that has fallen into the hands of a socialist regime.

And the Obama administration, at least publically, seemed to not care. Apart from the abiding arrogance that is the hallmark of the new presidency the administration need not care too much – at least not yet – because the protest is as much against Republicans as it is against them. The fact is both parties have broken the sacred trust we the people put in them to run our government and neither has done much to restore confidence in their ability to lead.

A good example of this can be found right here in Penn’s woods. At the same time as protesters were taking to the streets, largely spurred to action by the "stimulus" bill, the leader of the Republican Senatorial campaign committee was proclaiming his support for the wayward GOP senator who made passage of the pork-laden legislation possible.

After all Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives had voted against the "stimulus" bill, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was one of three Republicans who joined with Democrats to pass the legislation through the upper chamber. His decisive vote ignited a firestorm among the party’s grassroots, particularly in Pennsylvania. Not only has Specter been vilified by protestors, his apostasy prompted former Congressman Pat Toomey to enter the upcoming primary election against Specter. Toomey nearly defeated Specter five years ago, and entered the race with a wide lead in the polls over the incumbent.

On April 15th as protestors took to the streets two other events converged: Toomey officially announced his candidacy, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced the Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRCC) would back Specter in that race. Such political tone deafness is the reason why the GOP has gone from a majority to a decided minority in both houses of the national legislature. Ignoring the tea party protests, Cornyn opted to place protecting a member of the club over listening to the grassroots.

Meanwhile, back in the Keystone state, Republican State Committee Chairman Rob Gleason offered up yet another example of why his party is on the ropes. With the base of the Pennsylvania GOP in uproar over Specter and his "stimulus" vote, Gleason decided to attend a fundraiser on behalf of the wayward Senator at the home of Elsie Hillman, a leading pro-abortion activist who formerly served on the Republican National Committee. In one fell swoop Gleason managed to offend two GOP core constituencies at the same time: pro-lifers and fiscal conservatives.

I spoke last week to a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania who told me it was absolutely essential that the GOP harness the energy of the tea party movement to invigorate it at the grass roots level. But, not only was there no outreach from the party at the tea party events, party leaders like Cronyn and Gleason went out of their way to alienate the very people they need to rebuild their depleted grassroots ranks.

The Congressman was, of course, absolutely correct in his assessment of the situation. Let me add that as much as the Republican Party needs the tea party protestors, the tea party protesters need the Republican Party. The GOP is the only vehicle capable of channeling the outrage into political action that will result in real change in Congress.

The problem is the actions of party leaders like Cornyn and Gleason only serve to drive a wedge between the official party and millions of potential new members who could inject a much needed burst of energy and enthusiasm into the ailing elephant. Obama realizes this, which is why at least for now he really isn’t all that concerned.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])

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