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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/13/13

Rove Effort to Destroy Tea Party May be Doomed

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The history of the Republican Party shows that the effort of Karl Rove and his Conservative Victory Project and Crossroads political groups to neutralize the Tea Party wing of the GOP likely is doomed.

Whereas the Democratic Party seems to evolve its positions over time, the Republican Party has frequently throughout history been taken over by insurgent groups like the Tea Party, with rearguard actions by the ruling elite attempting to hold on to power usually failing.

It seems counter-intuitive, since conservatism usually is not associated with revolution, but that has been the history of the Republican Party.

The Republicans started out as the liberal, anti-slavery party in the 1850s, but were taken over by the Robber Barons in the 1870s. The Theodore Roosevelt Progressives had a Republican revolution in the first decade of the 20th Century, but then the corporatists took the GOP over in the 1920s. The Eisenhower internationalists grabbed the party reigns in the 1950s, but then the Goldwater conservatives and the Eisenhower wing fought for control from 1964 to 1980, until the conservatives under Ronald Reagan took over. With even Reaganism not conservative enough for some Republicans in the first decade of the 21st century, the Tea Party movement won a lot of seats in 2010.

In each case, the old GOP guard was unable to hold on to power--despite having more money like Rove and his groups do.

Money still can't beat footsoldiers, doorbell ringers, and true believers, and that's what the Tea Party has.

In my book Winning Political Campaigns: A Comprehensive Guide to Electoral Success, I talk about how in 2010 the Tea Party and in 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement energized Americans who hadn't been active in politics for a long time, or ever. Ross Perot did the same in 1992, and George Wallace did it in 1968. The opportunity to tap into the disaffected is always there, which is why the Tea Party isn't dead despite poorer showings at the polls in 2012 than in 2010.

In these highly partisan times there are fewer swing voters than in the past, but they're still out there. Barack Obama found them in 2008, and the Tea Party found them in 2010. 

For Republicans and conservatives, the setbacks of 2008 meant that the party and the movement needed and had opportunities for some fresh ideas and fresh faces, so in came the Tea Party two years later when Tea Party and Republican candidates won the Congress and many state legislatures and governorships. The Tea Partiers only were following history: after a national Democratic sweep in 1964, the Republican Party needed new faces and new ideas too, and somebody like Ronald Reagan could go from private citizen directly to Governor in 1966, and to viable presidential candidate only two years later.

One sure thing about the mainstream Republicans is that they always are going to put up old ideas and old faces (Jeb Bush, anyone?). Meaning there will continue to be opportunities for the less hidebound Tea Party to push back with new ideas and candidates.

The shapers of Tea Party orthodoxy such as Glenn Beck are able to translate their historical views into an ideology understood, embraced, and advocated by enough voters to put their ideological fellows into power. This type of discourse is not going to go away, despite the efforts of Rove and company.

Reports of the Tea Party's death are greatly exaggerated--as House Speaker John Boehner can attest whenever he tries to compromise with President Obama. History shows that Rove and his cronies should find another path than trying to steamroller the Tea Partiers when trying to lead the GOP back into power.

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William S. Bike is Senior Vice President of ANB Communications, a communications consulting and political consulting firm based in Chicago. Bike has worked in journalism, public relations, and politics since 1979 and is the former Communications (more...)
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