Sure, I'm a Democrat and tend to be liberal on social issues. Does that mean that I don't have some horror of runaway deficits, or that I don't think the TP movement has some legitimate concerns? Not at all. Many TP supporters (mostly Republicans) are basically decent people with whom I share some values, among them fiscal restraint.

But do I think the TP movement has much of a chance to really, fundamentally change the political landscape? No, I don't. There is a slim chance that in two years they may be a serious third party, and a somewhat greater chance (perhaps 1 in 5, I hazard) that by 2016 they could put forward a team committed to reducing the size of government that a plurality of Americans might embrace..which might be enough.

But I don't think either of these scenarios are terribly likely. Here's why:

The TP movement has no meaningful chance of effecting real change without actually becoming an independent political party. If they largely embrace Republicans, they will eventually be absorbed by the minority party and its preexisting agenda. Deficit spending may be reduced, but it will still continue at an unprecedented pace because the GOP leadership is wedded to preserving tax cuts, but not really committed to cutting entitlement programs or defense.

On the other hand, if the TP movement coalesces into an independent political party by November, they will split the conservatives and guarantee the Democrats retain their majorities for the next two years. Six months is not enough time to persuade the electorate to hand the keys of the economy and national defense over to a new party.

I do think that the TP movement has a chance to profoundly change the landscape given more time, but in order for that to happen the movement will have to find its Washington: a truly disinterested public figure willing to turn his or her back on partisan politics, of unimpeachable character, who is able to intelligently and calmly make the case for fiscal sanity. Politics significantly devolves into personality for many voters. A figure who is able to do this, whose life offers a story arc of inspiration and love of country, who has the patience to spend the multiple election cycles that will be necessary to build a new party, could revolutionize politics. You need some combination of Colin Powell, T. Boone Pickens and Bono.

But outside of finding such a figure, the TP movement has no long-term future. It is not a party, it is not politically mature, and it is amorphous on policy. Most of its supporters do not view it as a truly independent political movement, much less a party. They see it as a way of rebranding conservatism to elect conservative Republicans and restore the America that they think has been taken from them. That is ultimately a dead end: they will either guarantee that the Democrat's vision of America remains predominant, or they will temporarily extend the minority party's ability to build coalitions based on obstruction and foot-dragging. Neither of these outcomes is the pathway to a leaner, less intrusive and truly conservative form of governance.

1 comment:

Adam said...

The Tea Party movement feels like the Ron Paul Revolution of yesteryear. At least, on the surface.

I totally agree with you that in order to create a viable third party, it's going to have to be something more sustainable than election year, reactionary pandering.