Robert Ehlert: Tea party thinks it can take the GOP wheel

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJune 29, 2014 

Politics would not exist without passion, and so I congratulate Adam Brandon, the executive vice president of FreedomWorks, for bringing it to his work.

He represents a Washington D.C. -based "grass-roots service center to a community of over 6 million activists who believe in individual liberty and constitutionally-limited government."

But some of his extrapolation this week during a National Public Radio panel discussion about primary results took politics and passion on a one-way trip to implausible. Brandon suffers from what the late pundit Art Buchwald used to call Potomac Fever.

A big supporter of Rep. Raul Labrador in his failed bid to become the U.S. House majority leader, Brandon believes the tea party is well on its way to taking over the GOP - like, in the next decade.

I first read about this in Dan Popkey's blog Wednesday and was so taken aback that I had to go listen to the "The Diane Rehm Show" myself.

I love Brandon's enthusiasm, his command of certain facts and his Jetsons vision of what might be, what could be - but what will never be - in store for the tea party and the Republican Party. FreedomWorks and the Club For Growth and all of these other groups can wish and hope the tea party is on a decadelong march to dominance in the GOP.

But, ah, no.

Unlike Brandon and FreedomWorks, the tea party has no address or leader. The tea party has many franchises but no central office - and all of these retail locations have their own rules, and that's the way they like it.

There is agreement on limited government and fiscal restraint, but today's politics swerve well beyond that into the world crisis of the day, social issues and matters of faith - especially here in Idaho. These are divisive issues, and the tea party glue is no stronger than any other faction's.

The tea party is by no means going away, but it had its Woodstock in the summers of 2009 and 2010. I saw it up close. The target was President Barack Obama and his policies, as applied to a terrible economy, and the government fixes: $800 billion in "stimulus" funds and the push to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

That united like-minded people. Its contemporary attacks on mostly fellow GOP folk - now tattooed as "establishment" candidates - are dividing people and have produced the verb "tea-partied." One could say that Gov. Butch Otter, Rep. Mike Simpson, and Sens. Mitch McConnel, R-Ky, and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., were "tea-partied."

They all prevailed. The only tea party "trophy" during this primary season was GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But from my recollections and sources, there were a lot of reasons for Republicans of all stripes to turn on Cantor. He led with his opportunism and ambition, and folks were fed up.

I have heard the whining about Cochran's GOP primary win Tuesday, that he stooped to recruit Democrats. Does anybody recall the Reagan Democrats who helped sweep him into power?

Brandon says the tea party is growing in Congress. "While the K Street lobbyists are rallying to 70- and 80-year-old senators to keep them in power, we're building the bench," Brandon said.

If somebody - even a tea party darling - is in Congress now and will be for the next 5-10 years, doesn't that make them a career politician, part of the "establishment"?

Out of curiosty, I asked Labrador's office whether it wanted to comment on Brandon's remarks and views. For the record, Labrador has had plenty of time to join the Tea Party Caucus in the Republican House - but never has. He fancies himself a conservative with libertarian leanings. Here is his statement:

"The future for conservative reformers is a bright one. We are the fastest-growing and most dynamic segment of the Republican Party. The U.S. House, in particular, is a focal point for conservative reform, with many of our youngest, newest members sharing that philosophy. Right now, slightly less than half of House Republicans are freshmen or sophomores. After the 2014 election, a majority of House Republicans will have been in Congress four years or less. And keep in mind, this is about more than just the 'Tea Party.' The 'Tea Party' is extremely important, but the cause of 'conservative reform' is winning allies in every part of the Republican Party. I am very confident that 'conservative reform' - and those who are advocating for it - will be in the driver's seat of the Republican Party in 5-10 years."

I have my doubts about whether Labrador and the like-minded will hang in there with the grind of serving in the House for another 5-10 years, even if that is the wish of the people. I don't know whether the country can hang on that long without somebody "driving" to the exit marked "problem solving."

Those who love the scenery of the ideology highway too much are someday going to run out of gas.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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