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Is the Tea Party Succeeding or Failing?

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Last month Patrick J. Buchanan penned a column titled, “Is the Tea Party’s Dream an Illusion?” In it, he wrote:

When does the Republican Party, put in power by the Tea Party, plan to honor its commitment to halt the growth of the Federal monolith and bring the budget back into balance? Is there is any hope things will be different, should the Tea Party help produce a GOP Senate in 2014?

If the Tea Party is in some despair, is it not understandable?

For while there are countless proposals and plans to cut back on federal spending, from Simpson-Bowles on, it is impossible today to see in either party the political will to do the surgery.

Consider what would be needed to roll back Big Government.

First, the major entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security would have to be peeled back. But any effort to raise the age of eligibility, or reduce the benefits, or trim cost-of-living adjustments, would meet with ferocious resistance, led by the AARP.

Indeed, many Tea Party members are themselves among those enjoying, or about to enjoy, the benefits of these programs. Would they back cuts in either one? Democrats say these programs must be expanded, and they will resist any cuts as fiercely as the Republicans would resist any increase in payroll or income taxes.

Buchanan concludes, “Can it be that the Tea Party’s dream of a balanced budget, and of a government that ceases to eat up ever more of the GDP, is simply an act of self-delusion?”

A few days ago the Washington Times had a report with this headline: “Tea party loses some steam in GOP races.” Here are the opening three paragraphs:

Tea party challenges to Republican senators are fizzling across the country, leaving Mississippi as the only state where a longtime Republican officeholder is seriously endangered by a primary threat from his right.

Sen. Thad Cochran has stumbled, both verbally and in his voting record, and won’t get the backing of the American Conservative Union in his primary battle against Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel — though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it still supports the incumbent.

But in Kentucky, Kansas and South Carolina, tea party-backed challengers are struggling to gain traction in polls with arguments that the incumbents have been captured by Washington special interests and have turned their backs on grass-roots conservatives.

How can this be happening in a year that is supposed to resemble 2010? Anyone reading my columns already knows my answer to that question. The build-it-and-they-will-come approach to politics is a proven failure. Those on the political right have been building think tanks and “grassroots” organizations for decades but the people aren’t coming. The tea party crowd needs to learn this: the audience isn’t going to come to you — you need to go to your audience.

The good news is that Republicans and conservatives have an army that can be mobilized and sent into battle. Here’s an overview of what constitutes that army:

  • Individuals of all ages — high school to retirees.
  • Small informal groups.
  • Medium sized organized groups.
  • Patriot and tea party groups.
  • Issue advocacy organizations.
  • Think tanks.
  • State and local Republican Party organizations.
  • Every single elected conservative Republican whether they hold a large or small, partisan or non partisan office.

Unfortunately, this is a mostly-idle army. Anyone who has attended political meetings and events of all sizes for the past few decades has bumped into it. What’s striking is how many talented and dedicated people participate in those meetings and events. It’s also striking that the energy mostly dissipates after the meeting/event is over. Nearly everyone leaves not knowing what practical steps they can take to help the cause.

That’s a recipe for losing steam and continual failure.

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