By Tim Montgomerie
We have just ended another week in which America's Tea Party Movement has been winning headlines. The latest cause for spotlight coverage was the decision of primary voters in Delaware to select a very conservative candidate against the wishes of Republican leaders like Karl Rove who wanted them to vote for a more centrist candidate who, polls suggest, was more likely to beat the Democrat candidate in November. A more centrist candidate, yes, but a candidate conservatives had good reason to be tired of.
So what do we know about the Tea Party Movement and its desire for a government that brings spending, taxing and borrowing under control?
The TPM is riding a powerful anti-government mood in America: "A new poll indicates that only one in four Americans say they trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time, one explanation for the anti-incumbent sentiment in the country today. According to CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey released Tuesday, 25 percent of the public indicates that they trust the government in Washington to do what's is right most or all of the time, with 66 percent saying they trust the government to do what's right only some of the time and eight percent saying they never trust the government." (CNN Politics).
The TPM is popular with mainstream Americans: "The Tea Party movement is broad-based with wide support. Over half of the electorate now say they favor the Tea Party movement, around 35 percent say they support the movement, 20 to 25 percent self-identify as members of the movement, and 2 to 7 percent say they are activists." (Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen).
Despite what you may have read in the UK media the TPM isn't hurting
the Republican Party's immediate prospects: "As the Tea Party has
surged, so has the G.O.P. When this primary season began in early
February, voters wanted Democrats to retain control of Congress by 49
percent to 37 percent, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll. In
the ensuing months, Tea Party candidates won shocking victories in
states from Florida to Alaska. The most recent A.P./Gfk poll now
suggests that Americans want Republicans to take over Congress by 46
percent to 43 percent." (David Brooks).
Strong conservatives can win in moderate states in this electoral cycle because of dominance of economic issues: "These days, social issues are in remission and economic/fiscal problems have, understandably, taken center stage. In this environment, purists of the right have a big advantage because nobody doubts the sincerity with which they embrace the goals of limited government, low taxes and reduced spending." (Dick Morris and Eileen McGann).
Voters are tired of the Republican establishment backing higher public spending: "For conservatives on the ground, it has often felt as if Democrats (and moderate Republicans) were always saying, "We should spend a trillion dollars," and the Republican Party would respond, "No, too costly. How about $700 billion?" Conservatives on the ground are thinking, "How about nothing? How about we don't spend more money but finally start cutting." (Peggy Noonan).
The Tea Party Movement is ousting RINOs (Republicans In Name Only): "The tea party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when GOP operatives dismissed tea party-backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The Republican establishment is "the reason we even have the Tea Party movement," shot back columnist and tea party enthusiast Andrea Tantaros in the New York Daily News. It was the Bush administration that "ran up deficits" and gave us "open borders" and "Medicare Part D and busted budgets." (Peggy Noonan).
American voters are more worried about the "extreme" Democrats than the "extreme" Republicans: "According to a survey published in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans feel philosophically closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats. Put another way, many moderates see Democrats like Nancy Pelosi as more extreme than Republicans like John Boehner." (David Brooks).
Some Tea Party candidates are impressive and some are not: Mike Gerson notes how candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware look unelectable but Mark Rubio in Florida "has turned out to be a strong candidate and likely Republican star".
The Tea Party Movement is more popular than Sarah Palin: Too much UK-based coverage of the TPM does not distinguish between it and Sarah Palin. They overlap – not least because the former Governor of Alaska has backed many of the Movement's insurgent candidates – but they are also different phenomena. Palin is almost certainly less popular.
More worryingly for the future, there is extreme libertarianism within parts of the TPM: "Many Tea Party activists espouse a "constitutionalism" that amounts to an extreme libertarianism. Their goal is not just deficit reduction but the dismantling of the modern state. And they may prove harder to tame than some imagine. A Republican Party propelled by Tea Party enthusiasm is headed toward victory. A Republican Party dominated by Tea Party ideology would be pure, disturbing — and small." (Mike Gerson).