The Republican Party establishment – read the corporatist U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their incumbent toadies controlling the Party in Congress – is in the process of vanquishing the Tea Party. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, predicted as much when he told the New York Times in March that his brand of corporate Republicanism is going to “crush” challengers that Republican incumbents will face in their primaries.
The plan to “crush” the Tea Party candidates is detailed, very well-funded and working. During the early primaries in North Carolina, big Republican money gave state legislator, Thom Tillis, a big victory over his Tea Party opponent, Greg Bannon. Other Tea Party challengers in Kentucky and South Carolina have since withered, although, this Tuesday, the Nebraska U.S. Senate Republican Primary was won by a Tea Party-backed candidate.
The establishment GOPers and their strategist, George W. Bush’s Karl Rove, want to win. They want no more candidates like Sharron Angle (Nevada) or Christine O’Donnell (Delaware) winning Senate primaries only to self-destruct in the general election with Democrats. They want to avoid a repeat of the 2010 now-self-described nightmare.
For two election cycles – 2010 and 2012 – the GOP recognized and welcomed the energy that the Tea Partiers brought to the Republican Party and tried, with some success, to ride these dynamics backed by daily Fox News reporting. The loss to Obama in 2012 and the final straw – the unpopular government shutdown in 2013 driven by Senator Ted Cruz– convinced the GOP bosses to give up on assimilation or compromise with Tea Partiers, whether back home or in the Congress.
Finally a frustrated Speaker John Boehner smacked them down, joining Senator McConnell and the Wall Street money men in an undeclared war against the hard-core Tea Partiers who refused to compromise their beliefs. What the National Journal calls “the scorched-earth primary strategy” by the GOP is more than heavy TV advertising. It includes “opposition research” against the challengers and other heavy assaults that are usually reserved for November battles against Democrats.
The next month of state primaries will likely register GOP victories against Tea Party candidates, deploying the usual mantras of “less government, lower taxes and deregulation” to show their voters that the members of the GOP establishment are conservative and not RINOS (Republicans in Name Only).
Of course, rebellious Republicans have heard these mantras before only to see the GOP revert back to Wall Street over Main Street, global corporations over small businesses, and ever bigger government contracts and crony capitalism, with lower taxes for the rich and powerful and more burdens on the struggling majority of workers, regardless of their political labels.
After being knocked out in the primaries of 2014, will the Tea Partiers give up and go back into the fold, disrespected and marginalized? Will they do as many of the progressive left have done, which is to signal that they have nowhere to go, lose their bargaining power and choose to accept the “least worst” candidate on Tea Party issues between the GOP and the Democrats?
If they do that, they will fade into history. On the other hand, they can pursue an agenda that distinguishes “conservatism” from “corporatism.” They can oppose crony capitalism and its corporate state, slam sovereignty-shredding and job-destroying managed trade agreements, and press for more civil liberties with less government and corporate snooping.
They can push for breaking up the giant “too big to fail” banks, to prevent another economic crash, and support community-owned and controlled businesses. They can oppose unconstitutional wars and Empire. In short, these redirections mirror a Ron Paul political philosophy that has significant public support.
The Tea Party already has some formidable assets; widespread mass media name recognition, proven human energy, voter turnout skills, fundraising capabilities, supportive conservative think tank support and, unfortunately, little electoral competition for the above-mentioned objectives. And Tea Partiers show up! They are not prone to being armchair advocates.
The Tea Party even has nationally known candidates, sympathetic Senators and Governors, who, if amenable, could be their standard-bearers.
On the downside, the Tea Party’s positions on many health and safety regulatory issues and social services are not shared by a majority of the electorate. Also their preferred candidates for the White House are not likely to bolt the GOP. Rand Paul, for example, may try for more than one election cycle to show he can appeal to mainstream Republicans.
Nonetheless, the possibility of the Tea Partiers getting at least five to ten percent of the total vote in 2016 may be enough to attract leveraged politics against a two-party tyranny.
In our decaying, monetized self-seeking political auctions, it would be refreshing were authentic libertarian conservatives to take on the imperious corporatists who have such minimal allegiances to our country and its people.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.