Recent polls indicate that the most powerful force in politics today may in fact be the Tea Parties. Of course, a force is a very nebulous thing in politics. There was a time that Barack Obama was a force and that made him the President. Since then, he's had to govern and he's been brought down to Earth and quick.
So far, the tea parties have shown they can organize, they can create a protest, and they can make their voices heard. Furthermore, the tea parties represent the every man against government corruption, waste, and inefficiencies. This was the easy part. Organizing rallies, protests and town halls shouldn't be understated. The tea parties proved this past summer that their message resonates.
Now, comes the hard part. They need to transform that message into a force that influences. So far, the movement has failed on that end. Now, to be fair, there's only been one test. That test was in New York when the Tea Parties backed Doug Hoffman. Hoffman lost. Many tea party folks still refuse to view this as a loss but it was.
The tea parties have a tension. They are going back and forth between trying to overwhelm the Republicans and force that party into purity and just turning themselves into a third party. In fact, that tension was on display in the Hoffman race. Hoffman ran on the Conservative Party ticket. He essentially replaced the Republican there.
The problem is that neither side is all that simple to accomplish. Right now, the tea party folks are determined to overthrow Charlie Crist in Florida's Senatorial race. He's running against Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. Rubio is down the line conservative while Crist is a moderate. The Tea Parties may in fact be successful in dethroning Crist in the primary. Right now, the two are running neck and neck. If Rubio does win however, he'll likely lose in the general election. The tea parties are determined to turn the Republican party into a down the line conservative party. That sounds good in theory. The problem is that down the line conservatism doesn't play in every part of the country. It won't work in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, among a host of areas. Florida is a purple state. A moderate works best there. The tea parties have no use for that and they're likely to get rid of Crist.
If the Tea parties go around the country challenging every moderate: Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Susan Collins, etc., what they'll do is eliminate in the primaries the only person that can win the general election. Sure, the Republican party will be only conservatives. It will also be a party that won't even have enough members to create a filibuster.
If the tea parties did the natural thing and turned themselves into a third party, that also has plenty of pitfalls. Here in Chicago, the Republicans have a party chair. They have precinct captains in nearly every ward. That's about what the GOP has nearly everywhere and of course the Democrats are the same. That's the kind of organization both parties have. Then, there's ballot access. Both parties have an army of lawyers to challenge each and every signature, ballot, and packet for a race any time in any municipality. A third party would need to be able to run a candidate in every race everywhere to be legitimate. The Green Party, the most powerful third party, gets onto barely 20% of the ballots.
In fact, the only way for the tea parties to thrive as a third party is to run someone with name recognition as the Presidential candidate, and either win or at least supersede all expectations. The most natural candidate is Sarah Palin. I think it's pretty much common knowledge that she wants to lead such a movement. She has little use for the Republican establishment. She's loved by the movement. Furthermore, she has such massive star power that she could raise enough money without the organization of the Republican party.
Of course, if Palin did run and only took votes away from the Republican and ultimately the Democrat won, she and the movement would become hated in many quarters. So, even there, it's a move with plenty of pitfalls. The movement has come to a crossroads. It must decide what to do with its popularity and power. So far, it's accomplished the easy part. Moving forward that will be the hard part.
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