Given the public disenchantment with voter-ignoring, big-government-loving Democrats in Congress and The White House, next year’s elections could do much to restore some measure of fiscal sanity and common sense to Washington. But that will happen only if Republican leaders and grassroots Tea Party activists work together effectively. How – and whether – the two reconcile their different priorities and views will have profound consequences for any effort to beat back the Democratic vision of an ever-expanding, ever-more-intrusive federal government.
In recent days, there have been news reports about growing tensions between the Tea Partiers and GOP leaders. That’s understandable, because their priorities and motivations differ. While Tea Partiers are passionate activists committed above all to smaller government and (often) traditional social values, GOP leaders’ primary commitment is to winning seats for the party. But for a partnership to work, both sides will have to grow up.
Let’s start with the party leaders. No doubt there are places where conservative Republicans simply cannot win – in many parts of the Northeast, for example. But occasionally, there’s a laziness problem. Party leaders fail to examine the available alternatives or think about new and exciting candidates. Often, they settle on the candidate with the highest office or the most name identification at an early stage in the process, ignoring lesser-knowns who might be able to ignite real enthusiasm among the electorate in an off-year election. For example, in a year like this one, where anti-government sentiment runs high, it was a real mistake for the NRSC prematurely to endorse Governor Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, completely overlooking former Speaker Marco Rubio, who has taken the race by storm.
Nor should party leaders use candidate selection as a covert way to impose their own political preferences on the local electorate. Sometimes, GOP leaders are more moderate than the mass of Republican voters in their area. Seeing newly-minted activists through the more “sophisticated” eyes of political pros, they are occasionally suspicious of, or even appalled by, their rawness and undiluted conservatism. Some are even ashamed of them.