Polling numbers and political maneuverings are increasingly confirming what I first reported months ago. The tea party movement is no longer the large dominant force in the GOP that it was in 2010 or even 2012. But just because the "tea" might be a bit weaker, Republicans hoping to hang on to their elected positions or who seek to claim elected office need to understand that the political atmosphere might still be lightening up.
In the South, which has been the hotbed for the tea party cause, many big contested GOP nominations that were expected to go to candidates "they" support just don't seem to be moving in that direction. But before the remaining tea partiers start hurling expletives or objects my way, let me make it clear that what their movement really stood for in 2010 remains key to voters today.
That has been made clear by the reaction that is spreading across the West and Southwest as a result of the recent "cattle standoff" in Nevada. Concepts like preserving liberty, curbing government spending and reducing taxes remain high on the list for those who vote Republican in most states.
What have changed are the mindsets of elected officials who at one time dismissed those who carried flags, dressed like Paul Revere and voted in mass as kooks and misfits. These same politicians very slowly but surely tap danced their way to a far more fiscally conservative position.
Over the past four years we've seen Republicans in Congress first force mandatory cuts as part of a "sequestration process," and then later witnessed the House shut the entire government down. Neither of those events would have taken place had it not been for the powerful footsteps of the tea party revolution. They've held relentless hearings into matters ranging from the Benghazi debacle to abuse of power by the IRS.
To be truthful, Republicans have shown more backbone in the last four years than since the days of Newt Gingrich. And the loud voices in Congress have kept American fully aware of the failure of the Affordable Care Act. That certainly would never have taken place if left only in the hands of the Obama-friendly media.
So, while they aren't perfect, a whole lot of Republicans who were close to meeting the test for what makes up a so-called RINO or "Republican in Name Only," drifted back into the more solidly conservative camp.
The test for the GOP now comes not from elected officials not being conservative enough, but more from an electorate that seems to be craving moderation from both sides of the political aisle. Clearly the Democrats' "class warfare" isn't working this year. And dislike for their adamant stand for Obamacare is losing a solid majority of American voters.
But Republicans, who continue to suffer from tepid support nationally as well, are struggling with the constant tug-of-war between the Chamber of Commerce crowd that yearns for corporate tax breaks and lax immigration laws, and conservatives who continue to want tougher laws with regard to immigration and an end to "corporate welfare." Neither of which appeals to younger voters.
In the future it may be necessary to gain votes not by simply saying "no" or shutting things down, but rather by opening things up. That would mean not only letting cattle graze of federal property where it isn't hurting people but also letting folks with permits carry protection into locations where, increasingly, those who should not be armed don't play by the rules and wreak havoc.
It might mean letting folks who think smoking pot is no more harmful than slugging down booze have at it in the privacy of their own homes. Not my thing, but I get the trend.
To truly be in touch with Americans who otherwise believe in lower taxes and less government, Republicans might just have to take that philosophy to many other aspects of life. That would mean less protection and inspection from government of entities such as banks and airlines, but less red tape and hassle from Government as well.
In order to gain public support for less government intrusion into our pocket books, the GOP may have to quit pushing for intrusion into other aspects of people's lives.
America might be moving from sipping hot tea to having a quick puff sooner than we think. And the GOP may need to "get the drift."