Published on TheHill.com on October 19, 2010
A fundamental change is gripping the Republican grass roots as they animate the GOP surge to a major victory in the 2010 elections. No longer do evangelical or social issues dominate the Republican ground troops. Now economic and fiscal issues prevail. The Tea Party has made the Republican Party safe for libertarians.
There is still a litmus test for admission to the Republican Party. But no longer is it dominated by abortion, guns and gays. Now, keeping the economy free of government regulation, reducing taxation and curbing spending are the chemicals that turn the paper pink.
It is one of the fundamental planks in the Tea Party platform that the movement does not concern itself with social issues. At the Tea Parties, evangelical pro-lifers rub shoulders happily with gay libertarians. They are united by their anger at Obama’s economic policies, fear of his deficits and horror at his looming tax increases. Obama’s agenda has effectively removed the blocks that stopped tens of millions of social moderates from joining the GOP.
As a byproduct of this sea change in the Republican Party, GOP grassroots activists are no longer just concentrated in the South. They are spread all throughout the nation, as prominent in Ohio as in Alabama, in New York as in Georgia, in California as in Nevada.
The Tea Party’s focus on fiscal and economic issues finds deep resonance among voters of all stripes, united as they are in economic hardship and disappointed as they all are by Obama’s economic program. This antipathy to federal policies is paving the way for vast Republican inroads in normally solid Democratic turf like New York state, Massachusetts, California and Washington state.
Fighting over abortion has become a cottage industry in America. As useful to the left as to the right, both camps have used the issue for 30 years to demand orthodoxy of their constituents and fidelity from their electorates. No longer does the pro-life/pro-choice debate hold voters in blue states hostage to the Democratic Party, bound and determined to swallow as much in regulation and taxation as their liberal candidates offer if only to protect Roe v. Wade. Nor does it hypnotize Southern or rural conservatives who grant their Blue Dog congressmen a pass on Election Day as long as they are right on life, guns and gays. Now these Blue Dogs are paying the price for their betrayal of fiscal conservatism and find that they can no longer assuage their angered base by way of ads showing them with firearms. While social concerns still exist and are held deeply throughout the country, economic and fiscal issues have gripped the hearts and minds of Republican voters and candidates, pushing the social questions aside.
This preference for economic and fiscal questions over social issues is not a top-down decision of the Tea Party leadership. There really is no Tea Party leadership. Those who conduct its affairs are mere coordinators of local groups where the real power lies. The entire affair is a grass roots-dominated movement. I was shocked to learn that the teapartypatriots.org umbrella group, to which more than 2,800 local affiliates belong, has a total payroll of $50,000 per month, with only seven paid staff members, some of them low-level at that. This group, which embraces more than half of the self-described Tea Party groups in the U.S., leaves up to each local organization how to proceed and what to do. It is a bottom-up movement.
The determination to focus on fiscal and economic issues, to the exclusion of social questions, wells up from below as individual members vent their concerns over ObamaCare, stimulus spending and cap-and-trade legislation. It is around opposition to Obama’s agenda, not Roe v. Wade, that the movement is organized. It is a new day on the Republican right.