Yesterday I noted that the tea party in big states and national elections faces a challenge both in money and support when facing competent, mainstream Republicans. To put it bluntly, there aren’t enough Republicans who think that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is a sellout or that the shutdown was a good idea to sustain the tea party in its current form. I’ve suggested that it, in essence, disappears as a distinct subset of the right and, like most insurgent movements, will be soaked up by the larger political entity, in this case the GOP. But are there other things the tea party could do?
As we will see tonight in Texas, in electoral politics the tea parties may still have victories in state elections in red states. That’s not a big sandbox, but it isn’t nothing. Reuters reports, “In the race for Lieutenant Governor, Tea Party favorite State Senator Dan Patrick took 41.5 percent of the vote in the four-candidate March primary, and is favored to win on Tuesday. The three-term incumbent, David Dewhurst, finished with 28 percent. The run-off race for state attorney general features a similar showdown, after Tea Party-backed State Senator Ken Paxton took 44 percent of the primary vote and State Representative Dan Branch won 34 percent.”
Alternatively, the tea party might transform itself into a single-issue group. Whatever you think of one-issue politics, the right has a number of successful groups. On the right, the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association have been influential for years. Likewise, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform has reinforced the right’s no-tax-hike policy in election after election and in key budget standoffs. What issue could the tea party adopt?
The ideal movement, missing on the right, would be one devoted entirely to anti-cronyism. It is a popular position on the right and among all voters. The removal of special goodies in the tax code and budget that distort the market and reward entities that can manipulate big government is sorely needed. And although Republicans talk a good game, there has been comparatively little progress on issues such as too-big-to-fail bank subsidies, energy tax breaks and ag subsidies. Moreover, the original issue that lifted the tea party to prominence was the mortgage bailouts, a prime example of favoritism (not only for irresponsible borrowers but also for the lenders). Devising a pledge as stringent as the no-tax-hike pledge to stop new crony capitalism endeavors and to begin rooting out existing ones would be one way to approach the issue.
The worst-kept secret on the right is that the tea party doesn’t have issues or positions distinguishable from the GOP. An anti-cronyism crusade would be distinct, a counterweight to the influence of big business and a contribution to fiscal discipline and limited government. It is already a key issue for one of the tea party’s most thoughtful stars, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who recently said in a speech on his forward-looking agenda:
Cronyism simultaneously corrupts our economy and our government, turning both against the American people. It forces American families who “work hard and play by the rules” to prop up, bail out, and subsidize elite special interests that don’t. It therefore represents a uniquely malignant threat to American exceptionalism.
And so, the third part of a new, Conservative Reform Agenda must restore equal opportunity to the top of our society, too: to root out cronyist privilege from the law, and from our party, to re-empower the American people, and restore fairness, dynamism, and growth to our economy.
That sounds like a fine mission statement for the tea party-turned-anti-cronyism-party.