Essay: Tea Parties are Not the Defenders of Conservatism

As 2009 draws to a close, the Tea Party movement continues generating controversy, at the local, state and federal levels. But despite the successful press from media outlets such as FoxNews, Politico and others, the tea party movement fails to deliver where it matters most: elections. More importantly, there’s an emerging identity criss with the national and state levels of the tea party movement; are they strictly for fiscal responsibility and keeping our leaders accountable or are they the new defenders of conservative principles and ideals?

J.R. reported the ‘uprising’ (I use that term loosely) in the 5th District, as six of the seven candidates preferred anything but a primary (since they stood little chance at winning one) and now the results have not gone their way, some are advocating anarchy not only in the 5th district but the entire Republican Party of Virginia. This despite the election of the most conservative ticket in modern Virginia history, by overwhelming margins. It’s shocking that little over a month after a wildly successful election cycle, people are dissatisfied with the RPV and want it rooted through. Such a proposition is not only patently absurd but would only serve to make the tea party movement at a state and local level even more irrelevant.

Yes, they were able to make a stink in the New York 23rd, and rightfully so. The Republican Party leaders of upstate New York insulted the intelligence of their members and the party as a whole, putting forth a candidate who not only failed to have Republican values, but after doing the smart thing and dropping out, endorsed a Democrat. But beyond the national successes, Town Hall uproars from this summer, the 9-12 Rally, where’s the tangible results for the state levels? The US Congress just passed a $1.1 TRILLION spending bill, with nary a second thought, tea party be damned. While fiscal conservatism seems to be the end game for the national tea party movement, the local and state levels have yet to see anything even close to resembling a victory, setting aside the blunder in NY-23, which was more the Republican world correcting itself rather than success. To whit, did Hoffman win? Guess the tea party can revolt against candidates they label ‘improper’ but can’t get their own elected.

The 5th District has an issue with Hurt as the front-runner and NRCC-backed candidate. I can respect that, his pro-tax vote was outrageous. But he’s taken steps to fix his image, including signing the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax pledge, a pledge that popular Governor-elect Bob McDonnell didn’t even sign. Potentially, that trumps the 5th District tea party’s principal issue with Robert Hurt. How else is he a moderate, as defined by the tea party? He’s for fiscal conservatism, he’s announced it to everyone. That’s the national tea party’s end game. Now enter the local level tea party, after removing fiscal conservatism from the picture. Is he pro-choice? Pro-union? Pro-big government? Anti-gun? I have a hard time believing any of those are true, but I’m not sure to be honest, I’m not as familiar with him. The tea party at the national level does not see itself as the savior for the Republican creed, nor should it. So why then does the local tea party movement get up in arms when something doesn’t go their way, case in point, the 5th District. When confronted by the obvious, the NRCC would in fact involve itself in a district that trends Republican (shocker!), former 5th candidate Bradley Rees, convicted recently for illegally possessing concealed weapons, renounced the Republican party to attempt a run as a third-party candidate. Additionally, in conceding the Republican nomination fight, Rees remarked:

“It may amount to only drawing enough votes from the Republican candidate to ensure Tom Perriello a second term,” he said. “If so, so be it. Maybe then, the party will understand that we are trying to save the GOP from its worst enemy — not the Democrats, but themselves.”

Such mentality is absurd.

Thankfully, the tea party movement has not surfaced in the 2nd district fight. Believe me, the last thing we need is a nut-bag bottom rung candidate spouting off about the NRCC and anything NRCC-affiliated (see: Scott Rigell) to whip up media attention. Ben Loyola has loosely tried tapping into it with the Americans for Prosperity bumper sticker slogan, ‘Socialism Isn’t Cool’. And while catch-phrases are well and good, how likely is that to drive voters to the polls or to his side in the canvass on May 8th? The 2nd District isn’t a hard Republican district, so what does one have to gain by running far, far to the right? Not so much.

This is not to mention the ‘black sheep’ tea party members: birthers. Individuals believing that a conspiracy theory that President Obama is not a US born citizen, was born in Kenya, falsified his birth certificate, if in fact there ever was one, blah blah blah. Individuals who spout these beliefs not only bring a black eye to the Republican party and conservatives but also the tea party movement. Every time someone runs off at the mouth about wack-job theories they allow everyone, Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers, what have you, to be painted with the same brush, thereby demeaning the group collectively.

I realize that many people are passionate about the tea party movement and will take this post offensively. I respect that. I respect what the tea party movement has done at the national level: letting our leaders know that they are being watched, regardless of party or beliefs. The town hall anger, the 9-12 rally were successes but that was nationally. Statewide, there’s little reason to celebrate. In the Commonwealth, there has been none. There’s a reason Democrats rejoice when they see nonsense like what’s going on in the 5th. It simply gives Democrats a tighter grip on their consolidated power and presents an opportunity to further the downswing of Republicans and conservatives. And at the state and local levels, the tea party movement needs to get its facts straight; what is your purpose, your goal? Is it fiscal conservatism, stopping outrageous spending and government intervention into areas they have no business being? Or is it solely a vain and self-absorbed attempt at defending what they deem to be ‘true conservative’ principles? My hope would be the former, because if the tea party movement is held up or would like to be held up as saviors and defenders of the Republican party and conservative values, well, then the days of the Grand Old Party are drawing to a rapid and ugly close.

  • Dodo

    Snap! You’re not going to make friends with straight talk like that.

  • You shouldn’t discount the Tea Partiers, either. I do have a problem with the NRCC or NRSC getting behind a particular candidate in a primary. What is the sense of having a primary if the national party has already picked their preference of candidate? That’s my only problem, and I read a very good post at the Republican Liberty Caucus blog, where they state the same thing…the NRCC and NRSC really don’t have much business backing candidates in primaries.

  • You’re going to lose your R-card 😉 Good post.

  • As someone who has been very involved with the tea party movement I believe the author brings up very valid points. What he must remember is that this is a young movement and that if it lasts, which I think it will, it very well may mature into a movement that will have an effect on local and state politics.

    Remember most of those involved in the movement though passionate are new to the political spectrum. They will learn fast I am sure.

  • When dealing with human beings, we should accept as a basic proposition that people are stupid. We should respect that people have the right to both their stupidity and the results of their stupidity. That is what Conservatism is about. Whenever I am the victim of a stupid mistake, I would at least like it to be my own stupid mistake. That is, I do not want my government forcing me to take responsibility for someone elses stupid mistake.

    What is the Tea Party movement doing? These people are demanding that our leaders restrain themselves. Our government is forcing responsible citizens to assume the debts of irresponsible citizens. That is plainly wrong, but our government is doing it anyway.

    Are all those involved in the Tea Party Conservative? No, but the basic thrust, making the case for individual responsibility, is Conservative.

    Nonetheless, there is no organized group that can call itself The Tea Party. There are just people seeking to cloak themselves with the mantle of The Tea Party. We can characterize the movement, but movement has yet to coalesce behind a few individuals. Even when we talk about the Republican and Democratic Parties, we must admit these groups are relatively ill defined. The Tea Party has yet to become even that organized.

    What the Tea Party movement has succeeded in doing is pulling both the major political parties back towards Conservativism. What Republicans hope is that most Tea Party activists will join with it. To make that happen, the Republican Party must actively seek the Tea Party movement’s support. That requires that the Republican Party coopt both the Tea Party movement’s most effective leaders and core objectives. That happened in the Virginia’s last election. Will it happen in the 2010 Congressional elections. Only time will tell.

  • Mark

    True the tea [partiers] have little to do with Conservatism – but they have a great deal to do with the current state of the GOP.

    Where the GOP once was a big tent – and welcomed moderates like myself, the GOP decided a decade ago to contract (I blame the mentality of morons like Rush who think in black and white – and who wanted to “clense” the party to the point where Reagan would have been driven back to the Dems) – that it didn’t need moderates, and it didn’t want them. When the GOP contracted the Democratic party grew.

    What is left in the GOP is a confused, angry, semi-populist mob made up of too many people that think a failed governor from Alaska who has yet to finish a job and thinks the truth is whatever she wants it to be. Who think saying no is policy, who think bashing the President whenever and in front of whomever is approriate, and who have decided that their patriotism is on hold whenever someone they don’t like gets elected. It has become a pathetic and whiny party of victims.

    My traditionally Conservative wife and even one of her friends who had an appointment under W. don’t think that the GOP represents them anymore – and the tea [partiers] are only hastening the demise of their party. The tea [partiers] are nothing more than the right-wing represenatation of the MoveOn.Org folks from the left, the only difference is the GOP is poised to hand over the keys to the kingdom to the tea [partiers] (if you need proof, remember all the Republican Representatives and even a few Senators who went out to speak at the 9/12 and anti-healthcare rallies) while the Dems are too large, too broad, and too smart to think of MoveOn as anything more than a facet of the party.

    I would just like to see some real conservatives stand up and tell the tea [partiers] where to go – unfortunately the GOP has become so small that no GOP leader wants to, or can, risk alinating the crazies.

  • Steven Osborne


    First of all, Sarah Palin is not a failed governor. She accomplished more in her time as governor than Barack Obama did in his entire career in the United States Senate. Before that she served as an oil regulator, and before that she served as a very successful mayor.

    Secondly, no one is really suggesting that moderates be pushed out of the Republican Party. However, one of the virtues of being moderate is that the opposite ends of the spectrum are likely to disagree with you at some point. I am all for moderates being in the GOP, however, I ask them to accept the premise that the Republican Party will likely take some positions that they don’t like. Because if you trace the Republican Party back to its 1856 roots, it is fundamentally a conservative party in the tradition of Jeffersonian ideals. Hence why the party named itself the Republican Party, after the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson.

  • Had Republicans stuck to their principles, there would be no tea party. The movement would be central focus of the Republican party, instead of a potentially competitive movement.

    Republicans helped pass, and may have even proposed if I recall correctly the first porkulus bill that prompted the famous moment on CNBC where a reporter called for these to happen. G.W. Bush departed from core Republican principles on many occasions, frustrating many who expected him to stay true to what he said he would do, in a reprise of his father’s “read my lips” debacle.

    Remember that last presidential cycle Republicans nominated someone who had proposed borderline socialist and decidedly non-constitutional legislation. Republicans like John Warner and Arlen Spector supported gun control, amnesty for illegal aliens, and generally expanding government control over citizen’s lives in many ways.

    Until recently, there wasn’t a Republican Party at the national level, at least one recognizable as the inheritors of Ronald Reagan’s legacy.

    The Tea Party movement has kicked the Republican Party in the butt with a massive wake-up call: either stand for Republican values, or get the hell out of the way so someone else can stand for them. Enough of this hollow-shell garbage of let’s be a little less spend and debt happy than the Democrats. We’ll give you at least ten extra years before we transform into a European-style socialist country, they’d offer. Wouldn’t you like ten extra years of freedom before you become a serf?

    The tea party only exists because those who would have stuck with a party that stood for smaller government, lower taxes, more freedom and less regulation had nowhere to go. No one was standing for them other than a rearguard of conservatives in the Republican Party that had little say in how the party operated. Why stay loyal to folks who turn around and partner with Ted Kennedy on a massive expansion of the Department of Education rather than find a way to eliminate it?

    They’re just going to screw you a little more gently.

    Now there’s all this concern that the people who got fed up with all this garbage to the point they had to do something on their own might want some sort of say in policy development and candidate recruitment. Yeah, go ahead and try to keep them out. You saw the polling. They’re bigger than the whole Republican Party, if you really make them choose sides. They’ll make the Republican Party look like Whigs in one election cycle. For those that don’t read history a whole lot, the Whigs disappeared in a single election cycle precisely because the leadership drifted away from it’s political base and the base felt they’d been sold out.

    Right now all the creative policy ideas are coming out of the Tea Party movement and those Republicans who are in sync with it. The “moderates” (a term I believe to be inaccurate, probably better described as “Rockefeller Republicans”) have no ideas. None. They’re simply opportunists like John Warner, who announced that he would be anything the party wanted him to be once the window opened up for him to run so long ago.

    At the state level we are quite a ways ahead of the national party in adjusting to this new reality, but we’re not quite all the way there. There’s still an old guard trying to play the opportunist game and berift of principles, but they’re slowly learning or at least faking it pretty well. They got some more work to do to earn back trust, and that’s being played out in some of these nominating races. Don’t sweat it so much, just run a fair process and it’ll all sort itself out. Don’t run a fair process, or make it seem to depart from fairness, and that revolt of Tea Party movement people starts to pick up steam.

    In closing, anyone concerned about what would happen if policy-driven citizens seized control should remember the not too long ago days when John Chichester and Russ Potts were major figures in the Republican Party. Republicans were losing pretty badly in elections. “Virginia is turning blue” was a constant refrain.

    Let’s not go back to those days.

  • Politics with Pam


    As a local Republican Party Chairman in Norfolk, I have to say I am disconcerted about your comments on “what is left of the GOP”.

    All year, I have resisted any urge to make comments on my favorite blog–as I thought it’s not protocol to dignify or add any credibility to posts such as yours as an elected GOP official in my own city. I firmly feel that your assertions and generalizations of active members of the GOP are not from an informed standpoint. I would surmise, you must not have ever been actively involved in your local Republican Party unit, or the campaigns, or you would not say what you have said above. There is a difference between a voter who votes Republican normally, and a member of the Republican Party of VA who is active and supports Republican candidates with their time, talent & treasure to help them get elected. We come from all walks of life, opinions and ecomonic circumstances. If you want to comment on the members of the Republuican Party of VA -become one.

    At this point, I would like to request a “Guest Post” from JR & other members of the Bearing Drift Board on my thoughts and opinions on this subject matter. This is an important discussion.

    Best Regards,

    Pam Brown
    Chairman, Republican Party of Norfolk
    VFRW Board of Directors
    Past President, Norfolk Republican Women 2004-2005
    Elected Delegate, 2004 & 2008 Republican Natonal Convention
    87th District Chair-RPV

  • Brian Kirwin

    In 1976, this post would’ve been entitled, “Support Ford. Who needs that “Ronald” guy anyway.”

  • Brian,

    On your own, now gone, blog, you posted how Ronald Reagan signed the Surface Transportation Assistance Act that included an increase in the fuel tax to fund needed transportation improvements. The Tea Party movement would have had a problem with Ronald Reagan if he was running for office today.

  • kelley in virginia

    let me respond to one question in the original post. Sen. Robt Hurt is not in favor of “Card Check”. I was at a fundraiser for him last night & he said those words emphatically.

    I consider myself a “tea partier” as I went to the 4/15 Tea Party in Richmond. Since the “tea party” movement is obviously not convincing the Congressidjits that we are serious, I suggest that we oust those deaf Congressidjits.

    Hey, Republicans, conservatives, Tea Partiers–all of you (& me). Quit fussing with each other. in the 5th Congressional District, Perriello needs to GO.

  • LD, i know, and back then, they did. Reagan’s approval ratings were in the basement when he raised the gas tax.

  • ” This despite the election of the most conservative ticket in modern Virginia history, by overwhelming margins.”

    DJ……that ticket was nominated by a convention not a primary. So how does your arguement support the primary choice that didn’t go the “Tea Party” way.

    To the clueless……The Tea Party movement is just that. A movement. It is not a third party. It simply is made up of people from more than one party that are resisting wreckless spending and anti-American socialism that will devastate our way of life. The purpose of the movement isn’t about Republican nominations. If some GOPers that happen to have “Tea Party” connections are ticked off at old gaurd left wing Republican nomination tactics…..that is all it is.

    That said, alienate the Tea Partiers at your own risk. They are organized, networked, and dedicated campaigners/voters. By nature, they hold a grudge and remember if you just screwed them or not. A primary favors Hurt but, that doesn’t mean that Tea Party “get out the vote” efforts won’t center on a favorite and defeat Hurt anyway.

    What is laughable is guys like Mark. He dares to call himself a moderate Republican. Mark, your acting sucks…..bad. Tell us again about conservatism, geesh. Even a liberal Republican that genuinely did think Palin was harmful to McCain and even thought Rush was too conservative would never refer to those two people as disrespectfully as you have. They wouldn’t be defending the president the way you have. Criticize over the top characterizations of Obama, yes. Defend him generally, no. Even if they saw the Tea Party movement as a bunch of Ross Perot wannabe populists, they wouldn’t be referring to them with your vile term of “Tea Baggers”. Total lack of class on your part. Mark is far too Left wing to even qualify as a liberal Republican.

    Of course you and the Democrats bemoan the loss of good Dems in GOP clothing. You prefer to work with other socialists in a faux bi-partisan manner. I’m sure you miss Chichester, Marty Williams, and even Russ Potts greatly.

    What is steeping isn’t tea. Its fear. You guys don’t understand the Tea Party movement or how it has been so effective. How many Democrats are in Congress? There’s an ultra liberal in the White House and you STILL can’t pass your commie agenda? You have reason to be concerned. See you in November.

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