November, November, November is the song so many right-of-center voters, activists and politicians are singing. But the road to this year's mid-term elections is no cakewalk for anyone who voted against or opposed the highly unpopular socialization of health-care. Even before that weekend vote on Capitol Hill, if that November song was playing, there would be a political veteran in the crowd grumbling under his breath: "If we don't screw it up." By we, he meant Republicans. And somewhere a pessimist has bought nails, not screws, with which to seal the Grand Old Party's 2010 --and 2012 -- political coffin shut.
This bleak outlook is not called for yet. But, someone somewhere had better be making the phone call to key Republicans to scare them about the prospects.
There are plenty of signs that a good streak for the Republicans is winding down. The health-care loss was a big one, of paradigm-shaping proportions. But it was also a long time in coming. The Democrats talked and talked and talked about it, amidst a constant chorus of warning from the legislation's opponents. The only real surprise, frankly, was that it took the Dems as long as it did to pull it off, given the numbers they have in Washington. But, politically, the tide should turn a bit for the GOP. The Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts should be a precursor to many more victories in likely and not-so-likely places.
Republicans, those in office and those aspiring to it, know that they have to have something to offer besides just being the opposition. They've got to be able to communicate a principled worldview tied to constitutional principles that have been a beacon for the life of our young nation thus far. They've got to pull off what Marco Rubio in Florida and Paul Ryan on the floor of the House have -- they've got to inspire people to believe that there's a reason to want them in Washington.
Recent headlines about Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, are not so cheering. This is what the predictive grumbling I mentioned earlier is about. The real problem facing the Republican National Committee right now is not some good publicity for the Democrats' poor fiscal decisions. The real threat facing the RNC has to do with tea.
In a recent interview, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, sounded like he was flirting with the Tea Party movement as an actual alternative to the Republican Party. He told ABC's Rick Klein: "I think the Republicans have to realize they're not operating in a vacuum. Now, while Democrats may be in trouble coming into November's election, the Republicans are not the only game in town."
Whether Perkins or someone like him actually would actively encourage third-party alternatives is almost immaterial. The fact is, he said it, it's getting attention, and there's surely no shortage of folks willing to make a name for themselves as the Tea Party candidate in one race or another. We're already seeing candidates (running as Republicans) claiming the Tea Party seal of approval in primaries across the country. In fact, during the recent Florida senatorial debate between Republicans Gov. Charlie Crist and the aforementioned Rubio, a question was raised about whether Rubio, the hottest ticket nationally for the GOP, had it. Such talk of Tea Party imprimaturs are technically meaningless to anyone actually paying attention, as honest Tea Party organizers will tell you -- because the whole point of the movement has not been to start a formal party or to be a central organizing force. So, sure, anyone, actually, can call himself a Tea Partier and say he doesn't like one candidate or another. But the political clout is lacking.
But that could change if the RNC doesn't get its act together. At the Tea Party events I've attended, the guy who is clamoring to ditch the Republican Party may also try to tell you his theories on Elvis' continued existence - to put it kindly, he's distinctly on the fringe. Polls have been bearing out what conversations or a walk around these events could tell you: Tea Partiers are Americans who line up with what tend to be Republican platforms. The Tea Party could be an electoral godsend for Republicans: energized voters -- some returning to electoral participation after a long, disillusioned absence -- with whom they have a lot in common. That is, unless seemingly undisputed bad management at the RNC continues to keep trouble brewing.