The Tea Party is rising. Again.
The conservative firebrand has shown considerable resiliency this year, impacting state elections across the nation. First it was the dethroning of long-time Republican Senator Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican primary. Then on Tuesday the Tea Party scored another congressional win as upstart Ted Cruz scored a resounding GOP primary runoff win against part ironman David Dewhurst. But the Tea Party’s reach extended deeper, as on Tuesday they also affected the outcome of policy, striking down a proposed tax hike that would have transformed Georgia’s transportation system.
The Lugar and Cruz wins were compelling, but the Georgia victory was … shocking. Republican leaders in Georgia had pushed the T-SPLOST bill (a special-purpose local-option sales tax, in this case for transportation) which would raise sales taxes by 1 cent in order to raise $8.5 billion in traffic improvements. The 10-county project list would fund 157 transportation projects across the state and funnel 52% of the money to transit and 48% to improve the state's roads.
But there was a schism in the Republicans’ ranks. The Tea Party became one of the biggest critics of the tax, claiming that it would be economic suicide to force a higher tax on business and citizens in the midst of an economic downturn. Showing the clear frustration many conservatives have with the GOP, the Tea Party lead a popular grassroots campaign against T-SPLOST. Popular opinion was clearly on their side — according to the most recent campaign finance reports Tea Party-affiliated organizations against T-SPLOST had raised only about $15,000 for their cause. That was a pittance compared to the $8 million in the hands of the proponents, which included Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
The Tea Party also showed a striking ability to attract outsiders to their cause — they were joined in their T-SPLOST crusade by the environmental Sierra Club and the NAACP.
The Tea Party is growing. They are still a far-right group, both heavily socially and fiscally conservative. Within their ranks are evangelicals and libertarians. The libertarians themselves — a rising faction of citizens who want to lessen the hold of government on business and society — are finding that their basic, broad tenets are very appealing in mainstream America. Some data analysis suggests that there are more libertarians than conservatives, and that libertarianism isn’t a faction of conservatism, but rather the stronger pillar in the conservative ideology.
There was Indiana.
There was Wisconsin.
There was Texas and Georgia yesterday.
So where will the Tea Party strike next?
A new poll from Public Policy Polling sees former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson under pressure in his run for Senate, making him perhaps another establishment Republican to lose a primary. The poll finds Eric Hovde leading at 28%, with Thompson and Mark Neumann tied for second.
After that? Well the obvious answer is the November general election. The Tea Party will likely not affect the presidential race in a major way (Tea Partiers are Team Romney by default … and I’m predicting Romney will lose bad in November), but they will likely impact races deeper down the ballot, especially congressional contests. Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin — they were just the start. Expect another Tea Party invasion on Congress.
And then what?
More obstruction. Less diplomacy. Less middle ground legislation. More hard-line conservatives to contend with. And probably another debt ceiling battle, less foreign intervention, and a loosening of government grip on facets of business and society. No more Obamacare-like legislation. And maybe a radical left-wing foil will emerge to contrast the Tea Party.
I’m spit-balling here.
But the Tea Party is here to stay. Expect a little more anarchy in politcs. And that's not a good thing.