Nearly five years after the Tea Party movement arrived in the national consciousness, its faithful continue to beat the drums, both nationally and locally.
Witness the unusually large number of Delaware County Republican Party Central Committee races in the May 6 primary, featuring a number of candidates leaning toward or embracing tea party thinking. One of the most prominent candidates aligned with the tea party — Olentangy board member Adam White — was defeated by Jeff Benton 96-61 for the Orange L Central Committee seat.
Elsewhere in Ohio, U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner brushed aside two tea party challengers in his congressional district.
Despite some ballot-box success nationwide, the tea party has not impressed the majority of American voters. Instead, its popularity has waned. The Associated Press reports tea party support is limited to about 40 percent of all Republicans, down from about 60 percent in 2010. Additionally, evidence mounts that more mainstream Republicans are fighting back against tea party-aligned candidates they consider a liability. Only about 20 percent of all Americans support the tea party.
If the tea party wants to transform America, the formula for doing so is pretty simple: Get people elected who won’t irk the public and get voted out.
That has not happened on a large scale and there’s not much chance it ever will. The majority of the U.S. public is politically moderate. To their ears, much tea party rhetoric strikes of hyperbole: The nation is on the edge of collapse. Freedom is on the edge of collapse. Values are on the edge of collapse. Etc. Americans aren’t too excited by the idea of leaders who make dire pronouncements. They are more interested in seeing leaders accomplishing something substantive. That’s a very high standard to meet under any circumstance, and when the House of Representatives conservatives’ disdain for compromise threatens national default (which it has), few outside the tea party would cheer.
Not all, but some in the tea party point to the John Birch Society as a organization that pioneered their cause. The same John Birch Society which in the 20th century equated civil rights with communism. A more recent conservative comment that drew attention in Ohio was the suggestion public education equals socialism. This is a tradition of sloganeering that does little to endear itself to the wider public.
Leaving aside public perception and ill-advised quotes, any freshman public office-holder of any ideology is off to a bad start if he or she arrives with a truckload of axes to grind. For an elected official, the best forum for ideology is the debate that precedes and votes that culminate legislative issues on which elected officials are supposed to focus. Logic that is convincing will sway opinion. “Logic” that is shrill and polarizing won’t.
U.S. politics at all levels is a game of winners and losers. If moderates are held in contempt, winning isn’t going to be easy.