We are told some Tea Partyers are in the dumps. They face the very real prospect of Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee and the serial wipeout of a series of Tea Party-friendly candidates. Pundits speculate wildly that the 2012 will see the demise of the Tea Party.
Tea Partyers and their opponents overlook the degree to which the Tea Party has successfully shifted the GOP to the right on fiscal matters. Romney is a more conservative candidate because of the insurgent movement. The House is not simply controlled by Republicans; it is controlled by conservative Republicans. Naturally, perfection is always over the hill and dissatisfaction abounds when deals are finally struck. But the GOP is more united, more disciplined on fiscal matters, less tolerant of crony capitalism and more energized as a result of the Tea Party.
But if Tea Partyers want to win at the ballot box with a candidate who self-identifies as one of them then a re-evaluation of tactics is in order. In 2010 the Tea Party backed characters like Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle. The mainstream media ridiculed them. The Tea Party insisted this was all a smear. Both lost.
The lesson of 2010 and 2012 (at least so far) should be that the loudest, angriest, and most undisciplined candidates are cat nip for the base but ballot box poison. Stay away. They’re bad news. Like high school gals infatuated with the “bad boys” the Tea Partyers are heading for heartbreak if they fall for these contenders.
Instead they need candidates who share their fiscal agenda but who are serious, measured in tone, and knowledgeable. There are plenty of these - Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ron Johnson come to mind. The Tea Party has confused anti-liberal elitism with recklessness, and irreverence with quackery. Johnson and Rubio share the Tea Party ethos and agenda, but they also exude competence, have mastered policy and can speak to a broader audience.
The Tea Party is on solid ground with its embrace of debt reduction and determination to root out ObamaCare and crony capitalism. But its infatuation with incendiary rhetoric and with candidates who give off the whiff of crackpottery is undermining its mission and its importance in candidate selection.
Here are some danger signs: The candidate finds civil rights law unnecessary or oppressive. The candidate is obsessed with MSM coverage of him or his ideas. The candidate proposes that one or more political opponents have committed treason and/or should go to jail. The candidate labels all deal making as a sell out. The candidate is nostalgic for pre-New Deal governance. The candidate (if for president) pooh-poohs the need for substantive knowledge of or experience in national security. Such a candidate is telling the hardcore base what it wants to hear and turning off nearly everyone else. An unprepared or ignorant candidate is heading for a train wreck.
In short, Tea Partyers need to rethink their criteria for high offices. They should recognize that inexperience, ignorance, and obnoxiousness are not virtues. They are danger signs. And if they don’t like the 2012 nominee, they should, in the future, set about finding as verbally polished and technically impressive a candidate as Romney.