Ringing in the New Year brings just as many questions as answers for the future of conservatism in America. As the GOP wallowed in excess during the Bush years, the 2008 election left it kicked to the curb, punished for blowing the national nest egg on two wars, countless pork projects, and a massive expansion of federal agencies (whom by the way still can’t seem to figure out what their purpose is, let alone accomplish their mandated tasks). The defeat at the polls was definitely a resounding answer, or more aptly a counter, to Karl Rove’s proclamation of a permanent center-right majority in congress. However, out of the ashes of the political conflagration left by the neoconservatives and big government conservatives of the Bush Administration rose the Tea Party movement, an independent, small government, populist, and some might say conservative minded political force.
The great question as the year 2010 begins is how will the Tea Party movement reshape the American political landscape, or if it will really reshape it at all? New York Times columnist, and notably no friend to the Tea Partiers or conservatives in general, David Brooks believes that the political implications for the Tea Partiers will be important. He predicts a strong shakeup of the American political environment, with the momentum and energy on the Tea Party side. Similarly, Duke economics professor Michael Munger, writing at Reason Magazine, explores the possibility of the Tea Party movement catapulting the GOP to a repeat of 1994, when the unpopular Clinton health care reform plan and general political discontent allowed Republicans to take control of congress. In addition, though, Munger also envisions a path where the Tea Party movement goes the way of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in1964, standing on principle, smashed at the polls, but in defeat laying the groundwork for a long term powerful political movement.
Despite the points raised by Brooks and Munger, the answer to the future of the Tea Partiers is two pronged. Is the Tea Party movement a sincere movement? The outrage exhibited at the policies of the Obama administration seem sincere, but where was the outrage when the Bush administration was expanding government and borrowing more and more from the Chinese while increasing spending? If the movement is sincere then we should see not only many Democrats in close races, but also many Republicans battling more conservative challengers in the primaries. And there is some evidence of this, with the recent events in the NY-23 special election, the popularity of Rand Paul in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, Marco Rubio’s challenge to the formerly presumptive Republican Senate nominee in Florida, Governor Charlie Crist, and the possible run by Peter Schiff for the Senate seat in Connecticut.
Secondly, can the Tea Party movement remain independent of the GOP? To keep Republicans just as honest as the government they serve in, the Tea Partiers must remain independent of the GOP, and avoid being co-opted by the politicians and the larger lobbying and public interest firms. In this, the Tea Party movement has shown less promise. Many of the rallies held in Washington, D.C. and across the country have had local congressional representatives or candidates speak, who despite their newfound faith in small government conservatism were anything but conservative during the Bush years. Minority leader John Boehner has publicly embraced the Tea Partiers, Freedom Works, run by Dick Armey, has provided funding and logistical support for Washington, D.C. rallies, and numerous others, all of whom had every opportunity to speak out against the lack of conservatism in the Bush administration policies but did not, have jumped on the bandwagon. If the Tea Partiers can wake up and see through these fair weather conservatives, then perhaps, the movement can truly become a force in 2010.