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Is party over for the Tea Partiers?

August 17, 2013
By Dr. David Turner , Davis & Elkins College

After the Tea Party's ascendancy, attention is now being paid to those traditional conservatives like John McCain and Tom Coburn who want some co-operation with President Barack Obama. From immigration to opposition to a government shutdown, there is division in not only the Republican but Conservative house. It is one of the most significant fights seen within GOP ranks since 1975.

Then, after the Watergate debacle, Conservatives led by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms proposed a Conservative party to replace the GOP. Richard Viguerie, a key member of the American Right, suggested a merge of Ronald Reagan and George Wallace.

Reagan, however, waved these firebrands off, suggesting a new Republican party marked not by "pastels" but "bold colors." Reagan, whose conservatism tended toward the corporate rather than populist model, redirected his followers on a more pragmatic course.

Not all Conservatives were happy with Reagan; some briefly supported Phil Crane in 1980. But it was Reagan who won out, managing to form a coalition of some working class Democrats, religious Conservatives and traditional Republicans. Now that "Reagan coalition" is being challenged in 2013.

As usual, some Tea parties denounce RINOS (Republicans in name only) and demand purity. In a town hall meeting in North Carolina, some of these zealots were rebuked by a Republican Congressman with impeccable conservative credentials. With firebrands such as Ted Cruz trying to redefine what conservatism is, more tactically adapt Tories are urging patience.

The problem is the Libertarians and religious conservatives tend to regard all compromise as a sellout of basic principles. If Reagan was a happy warrior, this group sees only a bleak future if the line against Liberalism is not stringently held, and liberalism is defined as anything they dislike. Hence in some legislation the Tea Parties in some states, most notably in Texas and North Carolina, are practicing "knife in the teeth" politics.

More practical conservatives see these methods as detrimental. Especially immigration reform, which the moderates regard as essential if Republicans are ever going to secure the White House again. Moreover, some Conservative commentators such as Charles Krauthammer have gone so far as to describe some as near nihilist in approach.

As the Tea Party has developed it has become more factionalized and more populist. Its members are less establishment Republicans and more middle class in outlook. They tend to judge politics in moral absolutes and are not that concerned about elite opinion. But after a few chances lost to take back the Senate on 2010 and 2012, because the perception that some Republicans were too extreme, the moderates are urging prudence.

But the current debate will test the strength of the party. In the past the more energized parts of the coalition have shown remarkable discipline. But with demographics slowly placing the GOP in a bind, some are getting desperate.

Just look at California, once a solid Republican state that is now solidly Democratic.

In 2003 Darrell Issa led a recall to overthrow a Democratic governor, Gray Davis, only to get Arnold Schwarzenegger in the end. They did little good but prove that their cause was doomed in the Golden State.

If cooler heads do not prevail, the point will be remade, only this time nationwide.



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