Politics & Policy

The Cruz Campaign Shows Us the Tea Party Still Counts

(Spencer Platt/Getty)

The story of the week in the GOP nomination fight is all about organization. Ted Cruz has it, Donald Trump doesn’t, and so Cruz is not only vacuuming up every available delegate, he’s actually stacking Trump’s delegations with his own supporters. On April 1, Politico reported that more than 100 delegates are poised to break from Trump after the first ballot, and for Trump the picture is worsening every day.

He’s losing every organizational battle, and his people on the ground seem woefully unprepared. By contrast, the Cruz campaign is emerging as a model of preparation and efficiency. Again and again, when state and local party decisions have to be made — when organization truly counts — the Cruz team is getting the job done. It’s a marvel.

Or is it? While no one should discount Cruz’s organizational prowess, he’s not that good. One of the hidden stories of the 2016 GOP campaign is the extent to which Cruz is the beneficiary of years of local tea-party organizational effort. Activists have made a long and patient effort to both infiltrate the Republican party and build, in essence, a “shadow” party — a party within a party.

RELATED: Ted Cruz Is Surging by Design

The era of its mass rallies might be over, and the Tea Party label may have fallen out of fashion, but tea-party activists have built their own organizational base, and in many states it competes with or even dominates the traditional party structures. In other words, the Tea Party has its own “establishment” of politicians and activists, and it just might carry Cruz over the GOP finish line.

Seven years after the legendary Rick Santelli rant that helped launch a movement, it’s increasingly clear what the Tea Party was and was not — and what it is and is not. It was a mass movement that mobilized voters who were angry at Obama and the Republican establishment. It was not a mass movement centered around constitutional conservatism. It is a new and likely enduring part of the Republican coalition. It is not poised to remake the party itself or to become a major player as a third party. The Tea Party is part of the GOP, but it will never become the GOP. The movement simply isn’t large enough.

#share#With the benefit of hindsight, we can better evaluate the Tea Party’s popular high point, the halcyon days of huge rallies and soaring approval ratings. It was a constitutional protest movement, yes, but the emphasis was much more on “protest” than on the Constitution.

While there were certainly many constitutional conservatives within the Tea Party, and there was large-scale renewed interest in constitutional governance, the Tea Party did not, in fact, transform the rank and file of the Republican base into true small-government conservatives. This reality was hard to see — at least for a time — because the actual tea-party candidates who challenged the GOP establishment often merged constitutional and populist themes in their rhetoric. If the message was “throw the bums out and restore the Constitution,” it was sometimes hard to discern which was the dominant motivation: tossing the bums, or restoring the Constitution.

RELATED: Cruz Must Be the Anti-Trump

Then along came Donald Trump, a man who decisively separated Republican populism from constitutional conservatism. He’s the “burn it down” candidate, the big-government “nationalist” who’d probably flunk a basic civics test. (He thinks that judges sign bills and that the president can execute cop-killers by executive order, for example.) He smashed the anti-establishment coalition into its component parts, leaving populists and constitutional conservatives glaring at each other across a yawning ideological divide.

So far, the constitutional conservatives are less terrifying to so-called establishment-lane voters; thus, though they are fewer in number, they are more capable of building coalitions. Oh, and constitutional conservatives are far better organized. They’ve done the hard work of running for office, forming activist organizations (in the face of years-long IRS persecution), and lobbying legislators. This is Ted Cruz’s network, and seven years of hand-to-hand fights with Democrats and establishment Republicans have readied them for this moment.

#related#In March, when I voted for Cruz in the Tennessee primary, I also had the opportunity to vote for individual delegates. I was familiar with most of Cruz’s slate. They were some of the state’s most outspoken and committed conservative activists — people who (for good and ill) have never backed down from a fight. While Trump certainly has his loyalists, his network simply can’t compare.

While the outcome of the GOP nomination is still very much in doubt, I put Cruz in as a narrow favorite. In a fractured party, the victory is likely to go to the man and the movement who prepared to win, and Cruz and the constitutional-conservative movement have certainly prepared. The death of the Tea Party has been greatly exaggerated.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More