Republicans are feeling pretty good about themselves. In addition to picking up sixty-one seats in the House and gaining control of that legislative body for the first time in four years, they now control a majority of the states, and are poised to give themselves a long-term advantage by redistricting next year. The White House and Senate are still in Democrats’ hands, but the voters overwhelmingly rejected one-party rule, and Republican politicians clearly believe that the American people are on their side.
They couldn’t be more wrong. The GOP is fractured, like a fragmented vase held together by tape. It made it through the election by riding a wave of antiestablishment anger; many voters, especially independents, did not so much vote for Republicans as they voted against Democrats. Americans wanted to say “no” to liberal socialism, and did, but Republicans now have to offer the electorate something to say “yes” to. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to agree on what that something should be.
There is an ideological rift in the Republican Party, a division that could prove to be fatal if those in control refuse to release their stranglehold on power. There are the old Republicans—the establishment—who first feared the Tea Party, then attempted to infiltrate and control it, and the new Republicans, a far more ideological bunch who would rather drive their own party into the ground than see it head in the wrong direction. These conservative idealists want the best for their country, and view the GOP as a means to an end. Like a tool, the party will be used to complete a task. And, like a tool, it will be discarded if it doesn’t get the job done.
Those who think the Tea Party is a right-wing rejection of Obama’s presidency and policies would do well to remember that this antiestablishment movement—this revolution, for that’s what it is—was brewing while Bush was in office, as conservative groups like Campaign For Liberty blasted his administration’s big-government policies. Yes, the Tea Party led the charge against House Democrats in 2010, and the GOP owes its victories to a decentralized grassroots network of conservative activists, but the movement’s libertarian core will oppose Republicans just as vehemently if they squander the opportunity they have been afforded.
Republicans who stood by and said nothing as the Bush administration increased the size of the federal government, transferred power from the legislative branch to the executive, interfered in the affairs of sovereign nations, and perpetuated failed Keynesian economic policies cannot seriously believe that Americans want to return to an era of unprincipled, unconstitutional pseudo-conservatism, yet already there has been talk of replacing or improving ObamaCare rather than repealing it. Already, some speak of meeting in the middle, working across the aisle, instead of drawing a line in the sand.
Today’s right-of-center voters want something more than the compromising blend of social conservatism and fiscal liberalism that was once marketed as “compassionate conservatism.” They prefer consistent conservatism, a hypocrisy-free doctrine of less government, lower taxes, and more freedom. If the GOP does not reject the ideological inconsistencies that led to its becoming a minority party in the first place, it will find, sooner rather than later, that the Tea Party is perfectly willing to toss it overboard.