Teed Off!

first_imgIf recent history is any guide, the populist Tea Party, which is consuming all the oxygen this election cycle, will peter out over the next couple of years after seeing a temporary resurgence in the run up to the 2012 presidential primaries.Its trajectory could well track the meteoric rise and burnout of another recent third party. In the 1992 presidential elections, Ross Perot ignited similar grassroots fervor with his organization United We Stand, winning nearly 19 percent of the popular vote, the second highest ever for a third party candidate. But four years later when Perot ran again as a candidate of his newly formed Reform Party, he eked out just 8 percent of the vote. Unlike the present day Tea Party, Perot had the advantage of being able to use his enormous personal wealth to bankroll the Reform Party, but even so it devolved into competing factions and irrelevancy. In the 2008 elections, its presidential and vice presidential nominees Ted Weill and Frank McEnulty (remember them?) only qualified for the ballot in Mississippi, where they garnered just 481 votes.The Tea Party is different, because at least in this election cycle when the presidency is not on the line, its focus has been local and statewide, where it has been successful in knocking off some establishment Republican heavyweights in the primaries. Historically, third party candidates have been more successful in local or statewide races than at the national. Since Reconstruction, 31 U.S. Senators, 111 Representatives, and 22 Governors have been elected on third party tickets or as Independents. Indeed, two sitting U.S. Senators, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, ran successfully as independents. At least some of the Tea Party candidates, all running on the Republican ticket, will prevail in the upcoming elections. However, these Tea Party Republicans will be quickly co-opted by their party, much as the “Contract With America” Republican revolutionaries of 1994 were. Indeed, to some degree, even the Tea Party has been hijacked by Republican Party operatives, such as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and the right wing talk show provocateurs Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. If the Tea Party can find a way to extricate itself from these partisan ideologues —to whom they are beholden for their public ascendancy — it has the potential to be an enduring salutary force on the American political system. The Tea Party’s broad criticism that career politicians, lobbyists and Wall Street have smothered the U.S. political system is on the mark. Even in the face of a global economic meltdown they precipitated, both political parties as well as Pres. Barack Obama remain prisoners of and beholden to these same financiers, technocrats, lawyers and back-scratching professionals, often from a handful of elite colleges. The Tea Party, whose message is viscerally simple and shockingly drawn from first principles, has succeeded in piercing through the veneer of convoluted logic and complexity that has paralyzed governing and stunted public policy for decades.Magic markers and cardboard signs have a shot against spreadsheets and slick Powerpoint presentations again.   Related Itemslast_img read more