Has the Tea Party Peaked?
An 800-pound gorilla in a room otherwise full of Tea Party types needs to be pointed out: people who prefer smaller government tend not to especially like government. Human nature being what it is, we tend to avoid that which we don't like. Which is okay except for the equal and opposite other gorilla: the political left actually likes government and, thereby, governing. It amounts to a built-in default, as if one football team suited up eleven players and the other just ten.
If the typical Tea Party affiliate ignored a building mess as long as she could, dusted off her citizen's mantle as mess became crisis, vented anger in an election cycle, made her statement, rattled Washington, and pretty much brushed her hands off to resume life as before, then what has been gained stands to be lost.
Witness the 2010 midterms. Tea Partiers huffed and puffed and blew the House around. "So there!" they exclaimed. Satisfied that they had made their point, everyone high-fived and hung their mantles back in the closet, next to the tuxedos, to resume life as before.
"I wonder if the tea party shot its wad in 2011, peaked too soon in a real way," says The Green Papers researcher/commentator Richard Berg-Andersson. The Green Papers is a thorough and diligent aggregation of the American electoral process, even if it is a challenge to navigate.
He says Mitt Romney's nomination is all but assured. Asked about a brokered convention, Berg-Andersson, "an amateur historian," says Romney could be denied sewing up the nomination as late as May or early June, if someone else, a placeholder like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, can remain viable "as a protest vote," but "it's too late" for others.
Meanwhile, the rightward reform movement looks to be losing juice. Voter turnout in Florida was unenthusiastic -- 14% smaller turnout than 2008. Even the Republican Washington insiders aren't happy, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. "They're waiting to be rescued," a source told her, "by Jeb Bush."
"Too late for Jeb Bush," says Berg-Andersson. "It's not about popular votes, it's about delegates."
For those hoping for a brokered convention, Berg-Anderson says denying any candidate the 1,144 votes needed requires ongoing viable competition on the ballot. In other words, using the non-Romneys as protest votes. It's a long shot.
Which is not to write the Tea Party off, or to place blame for a less-than-hoped-for 2012 election season. It is, rather, to point out the built-in advantage people who like governing have over those who are willing to trust others to do it for them.
People of the right are more likely to go to church; people on the left are more likely to view government as church. It is a fundamental difference, which yields the inside track to those for whom governance is part spiritual.
But there is one other gorilla in our midst. King Kong government is voracious and resists restrictions, both fiscal and territorial. Grow or die -- the imperative of life. General Electric, the local United Way, even churches seek growth. The difference is that those last three are accountable. Not so with Kong. As government gets bigger, it becomes less accountable -- in part because it controls the money-printing machine, in part because office-holders are expert blame-shifters, and in part because its largess has an addictive nature to it, creating ever-expanding dependencies.
Which adds up to a wearying prospect for those whose natures aren't given to keeping a permanent place for governance on their radar screens. "That's fine," say the ever-aspiring leftward elite; "leave it to us. We'll take care of it. Have a nice day."
Perhaps the thing the Tea Party needs to hear most is what it wants to hear least: we didn't get into this condition in one election cycle, and we won't get out of it in one, two, or even ten. Incremental progress is a win only when more is added in a steady, consistent, unrelenting effort.
It's up to all of us, Tea Party, Libertarian, Main Street Republican, and independent. Freedom isn't free. It never was. It just looks easy from a distance.