By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Recent political events can’t be pleasing for the Tea Party. The rise of the “moderate ” Mitt Romney coupled with the S.S. Gingrich running aground everywhere but South Carolina has forced many in the ostensibly “grass roots” movement to question their viability. The soul-searching has caused as least one prominent leader to declare the movement kaput. Ohio Liberty Council co-founder Chris Littleton said, “The tea party is dead. It’s gone.”
This dire observation seems prompted by the lack of any enthusiasm for the Republican slate of Presidential candidates (Perish the thought that this “nonpartisan” group might consider a Democratic candidate). Says Littleton, “I think largely the Tea Party is irrelevant in the primaries. They aren’t passionate about any of the candidates, and if they are passionate, they’re for Ron Paul.” Damning praise indeed from an expert in the field.
But what about Tea Party darling, Rick Santorum, now that Gingrich has faded? The former Pennsylvania Senator, who during office resided in Virginia, did make some surprising noise in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. However as they say on that most Republican of boulevards, Wall Street, the “fundamentals” are against him. Santorum trails well behind Romney in fund raising and his infrastructure has the feel of the Afghan highway system. Santorum promises an aggressive attack in Michigan where Romney’s father was governor, but polls show him dead last in the four horse race.
That said, what’s a right-wing anti-government type to do? Well look to the future for one thing: “When the (Republican) candidate is selected, I think ‘anybody but Obama’ will have nationwide support from groups like us,” Dayton Tea Party President Don Birdsall said. But that presumes the Tea Party will show up at the polls despite its admitted lack of enthusiasm. The next time they do that will be the first time it’s been done.
Groups that are agin’ things tend to peter out rather quickly. Think Ross Perot. The Tea Party claimed some headway (though how much is debatable) in 2010 when it pointed to victories in the mid-term elections of Marc Rubio and Rand Paul and the Republicans took over the House. But has anybody heard from these two since their matriculation to Capitol Hill? How about legislation cutting taxes or cutting government? Lots of talk about it, but most of the meaningful legislation passed is Obama proposed law. Groups with staying power tend to be “for” something and not just agin’ something else.
The Tea Party suffered from a lack of a charismatic spokesperson and any real traction in the political middle where staying power is built. Oh, there were pretenders to the throne. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and several others had plenty of rhetoric but no real intellectual gravitas to throw the disgruntled right on their back and carry them to the White House. Most are still trying to pick up the standard, but being out of the Presidential Race in 2012 doesn’t help. At best, they are left to cheerlead from the sidelines or offer timid advice like this stuff from Sarah Palin: Romney has work to do to convince GOP voters he’s moved beyond his “pretty moderate past … even in some cases a liberal past. I am not convinced, and I do not think the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced.” Not exactly “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead,” is it?
The Party does claim success in shaping the Republican campaign issues, but are cutting taxes, less government, run-away capitalism, and the Second Amendment really anything new in Republican circles? More importantly will they be front and center in a Romney White House? History says emphatically “no,” and that’s what has the Tea Partiers hopping mad and likely to take their six-packs and stay home this Fall.
There still a chance the movement could rally around a Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, or Sen. Rand Paul, but none have the national stature to get traction before November. All in all the Tea Party seems fated to be just another passing fancy littering the political landscape.
Anyone remember the Whigs?
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger