The Agenda

Josh Kraushaar on the Durability of the Tea Party Movement

At National Journal, Josh Kraushaar has a new column on what we might refer to as the “misunderestimation” of the Tea Party movement:

Lugar’s landslide loss is a sign of the maturation of the tea party, a loosely defined confederation of conservative activists in 2010 who have banded together and threaten to have a defining impact in 2012. Because they’re not conducting mass protests, Occupy Wall Street-style, many pundits naïvely presumed their strength had subsided. But in reality, the masses of disaffected conservatives are a sleeping giant.

Antiestablishment GOP candidates have a chance to score Senate-primary upsets in Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. In three of those four races, the Republican nominee would start off as the heavy favorite in the general election—a major difference from the 2010 GOP primaries fought in more Democratic-friendly states, such as Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada.

Much depends on how we define the Tea Party movement. As I’ve argued in this space, Utah’s Dan Liljenquist is very much a pragmatic problem-solver rather than a reflexive ideologue, and the same can be said of many other Republican candidates who’ve garnered enthusiasm among grassroots conservative activists who identify with the Tea Party. To the extent that the term “Tea Party” is used to denote an apocalyptic political sensibility (references to “Second Amendment remedies,” etc.), we can expect it to fade. But to the extent that it refers to a coalition of conservatives committed to a more rigorous approach to limited government, competitive federalism, and spending discipline, and perhaps greater skepticism regarding armed interventions and measures that erode formal protections of civil liberties, it seems to represent a durable phenomenon. Confusion arises in part because many in the press and on the political left have drawn on images of and associations with the former to characterize the latter. So somehow people are left with the impression that Liljenquist and Richard Mourdock with Sharron Angle.   

Kraushaar also has a post why Mitt Romney has been talking about deficits and debt: the issue resonates in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia that have relatively strong economies. Many on the left are critical of the Republican emphasis on deficits and debt, yet it’s worth remembering that President Obama pivoted from making the case for fiscal stimulus to universal health coverage on the grounds that his health reform effort would tackle long-term deficits and debt, a pivot that many in the Obama administration considered premature. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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