Following the coming out party for the tea parties (no pun intended) in February, the liberals and Democrats mocked. President Obama was still wildly popular. There were just under 20 different cities with a few hundred attendees in each city. It was a passing fad. After all the president was popular and everyone expected him to remain so for an indefinite future. At the time, the conventional wisdom was the permanent and sustained electoral change to the Democrats. People were figuring out how quickly the country would move from center right to center left and how far left it would.
Then, the tea parties protested on April 15th again. Now, they were in near 1000 cities and the numbers ranged for a few dozen to twenty thousand in Atlanta. The totals numbered somewhere in the neighborhood of one million. Still people mocked. Sure, the tea parties could protest but what would it lead to. On the 4th of July, the tea parties protested again. Their numbers were similar to that of April 15th. Still, it seemed as though it was going to be nothing more than protests.
Then, the August recess hit. The same folks that attended the tea parties started finding town hall debates everywhere and they began challenging politicians over the health care debate. Suddenly, what was once a calm exchange of a few dozen citizens quietly speaking to their representatives turned into a full political force and story. The month of August was dominated by citizens challenging their politicians over the health care debate. While the Democrats struggle to pass health care reform to this day, one thing is certain. The health care proposal, if passed, will not only be unpopular but wildly unpopular and that was finished off by the citizen revolt in August.
All movements must, at some point, turn into an electoral force. That's what the tea parties are attempting to do now. They made their first stand in New York's 23rd District, and it was a total and miserable failure. Worse than that, most of the movement refuses to acknowledge it for what it is. Most folks believe they won. They seem to think that by losing they won.
Doug Hoffman was the perfect tea party candidate. He was an outsider. He was a consistent conservative. He believed in lower taxes, less government, less regulation, and free markets. He was against the bailouts, the stimulus, and the health care reform package. Furthermore, he was running in a district held by a Republican since the Civil War. Furthermore, he had almost every important conservative politician behind him: Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, etc.
Yet, he lost. He lost because he became a theoretical politician. He became a symbolic politician. He was the sort of politician the tea parties wanted in the Republican party. Meanwhile, Dede Scozzafava was the sort of politician that the tea parties saw the Republican turning into without their revolt. They pitted Hoffman against Scozzafava and the Democrat won.
The Democrat, Bill Owens, spoke to issues important to his constituents: jobs, health care, education. Doug Hoffman spoke about how he's the true conservative. That's the thing about purists. They think everyone is like them. Most people just don't care that much. They want problem solvers. They want people that will help them feed their kids, get good health care, get a good education, etc. They don't care if it's a conservative or a liberal. Running as the consistent conservative will get the purists but it won't win. New York 23 proved that.
Yet, the tea parties seem to think they've won. They ran Scozzafava out of the race and their guy almost won. That's as delusional as it absurd. If this is the way it will go, they'll hand the Democrats a victory everywhere they take a stand. The tea parties are aiming at Florida next. There, the popular, but moderate, governor Charlie Crist is running against the consistent conservative but totally unknown Marco Rubio. They're ready to make another stand. Crist isn't nearly conservative enough for them. So, they're going full force to beat him in the primary. They may even win though Rubio will almost certainly then lose in the general election.
See, in the primary, the true and consistent conservative is important. In the general election, it means absolutely nothing. For the tea parties to be successful, they must move from the theoretical to the practical. No one, but them, cares who is most conservative. People care about getting problems solved. Conservatives seem to think that simply talking about conservatism is enough. If it were, Doug Hoffman would be the new Congressman from New York 23. He isn't because ultimately no one cares all that much.
Many times movements like this wind up doing more harm than good. That's where the tea parties are on the verge of going. They'll challenge each and every moderate in the primaries. Those moderates will lose. Then, their consistent conservative will trot out in the general election and talk about how they're the consistent conservative and they'll lose each and every time. All the tea parties will really do is make sure all sorts of liberals wind up in Congress.
Please check out my new books, "Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney's Kafkaesque Divorce and Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and the World's Last Custody Trial"