The Real Power of a Tea Party Centrist — Winning

The Real Power of a Tea Party Centrist — Winning

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Tea Party challengers went down to defeat in important GOP primaries last night. Mitch McConnell had vowed to “crush” Tea Party rival Matt Bevin, who referred to the Majority Leader as a “pretend conservative.” And he did – in a landslide. In Georgia and Idaho, upstart contenders also lost to veteran Republicans, giving the party seasoned candidates with whom they hope to win control of the Senate come November. The mainstream rejoiced, and reasonably so.

Still, it’s time someone said something nice about the Tea Party. True, primary season showcased a number of right-wing nuts and dolts who popped up in Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere. They were eager to challenge so-called “establishment” Republicans –- aka those who can actually win elections. 

The emergence of candidates who challenge evolution (Paul Broun in Georgia) or who champion cock fighting (Matt Bevin in Kentucky) causes great merriment amongst the liberal media and lots of hand wringing from sober Republicans. But, let us recall that the Tea Party single-handedly brought the GOP back to life in 2010.

Related: Reports of the Tea Party’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The offbeat characters that stalk the fringes of both political parties (and Democrats will have their moments, too) are important; they remind us that not everyone in the country thinks like the editorial board of The New York Times. More importantly, the Tea Party has played a vital role in voicing the outrage of the middle class – people whose views President Obama and Hillary Clinton pretend to represent.

People who currently distrust their government and are worried about the future should be fair game for Republicans. Consumer confidence – the mother’s milk of economic rebirth – dropped four points this month and is nowhere near where it should be in a recovery. The country is ripe for change.

Here’s a factoid that the left would like to ignore: in an extensive 2010 poll, Gallup discovered that in “their age, educational background, employment status, and race -- Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.” Yes, they tended to tilt Republican – but these folks are not under-educated compared to most Americans, nor are they old, or poor. They’re average, middle class, working men and women who rose up and howled about the bailouts, the stimulus, and Obamacare. It was the Tea Party that sounded the alarms on soaring debts and deficits.

It is that group that establishment Republicans needs to reengage. The Tea Party was energized by what they perceived as an existential threat to their way of life during the financial crisis; today they are disillusioned by stagnant incomes, policies that cater to the few at the expense of the many, and the perception that the government rewards most those who contribute least. They are rightly suspicious of money and power; Mitt Romney was not their candidate.

Related: Cruz—the Tea Party Texan Who Wants to Save American from Itself

This is the challenge for the GOP – to inspire middle class voters, and field candidates that can appeal to a broad spectrum of the country. The leadership of the party is trying to walk that fine line, vetting candidates that will not become fodder for late-night TV, but who can convince the average Joe that limited government can improve his life. At the same time, those on the right want to keep their well-earned seat at the table. The country needs these groups need to work together.

Last week, conservative leaders under the banner of the Conservative Action Project met privately to push back against moderate Republicans who have succeeded in bumping off right-wing challengers in numerous primaries around the country. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist and numerous others want to bend the GOP agenda toward favored principles like lower taxes, and away from amnesty for illegal immigrants, same-sex marriage, and abortion. They are worried that the GOP will indeed capture the Senate in November, but that newly elected “establishment Republicans” will ignore their agenda.

They are right to be worried, but wrong to buck the trend. The social issues that define the far right may succeed at a local level, but they cannot be sold nationally. The polling is clear; while wanting a secure border, the majority of the nation welcomes immigrants and favors providing those here illegally with a path to citizenship.

Ditto same-sex marriage, now supported by 59 percent of the country according to recent surveys. Abortion is more nuanced, with many people increasingly disapproving of late-term abortions. Still, only one fifth of the country thinks abortion should be illegal.

Related: Business Group's $50M Push: No 'Fools' on GOP Ticket

The capturing of the House of Representatives in 2010 had nothing to do with immigration or abortion. It was all about fiscal sobriety. This remains verdant common ground for the GOP. With the recovery, our deficits have narrowed, leading many to imagine our budget and debt crises are behind us. It is not true. Our deficits will soon again climb, thanks to our unsustainable entitlements programs – especially Medicare. But, that is the future; Americans are worried about the present – the tough job market and stagnant incomes.

More common turf is needed. Republicans across the spectrum should talk to Americans about issues that matter to everyone – like how important it is to put people back to work, how small businesses should be helped, not hindered with endless red tape, how we have to fix our failing public schools. They need to hear that our problems are fixable with common-sense solutions.

This is a great nation, full of people who are entrepreneurial, energetic and hopeful. Pundits today can list one hundred reasons to be negative on the future of the United States; most were not around when inflation was 15 percent, when more than 50 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days, and when we ran out of gasoline. The chattering class was pessimistic then, too. Then came Ronald Reagan who convinced Americans that a common sense government could make their lives better. He did that, and the right GOP leader can do it again.

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