Such views could alienate activists from the lawmakers they helped elect. Tea party activists still have little tolerance for the culture of compromise on Capitol Hill. On Saturday, freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) tested the idea of raising the debt ceiling as a way to bargain with Democrats for cuts. After he spoke, 94 percent of the crowd voted against raising the limit.
Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told conference attendees that a focus on platform, not people, could help the tea party avoid the same disappointments that conservatives felt after the 1994 Republican revolution.
“I think we’re at a very similar moment to where we were in February of 1995,” said Reed, who led the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. “We were sitting with a misplaced euphoria and naive triumphalism that we had defeated” President Bill Clinton.
He urged the tea party to look beyond its opposition of President Barack Obama and his health care overhaul to a policy platform that Republican candidates would back.
“We need to formulate the agenda and hand it to them and say, ‘This is what we’re running on,’” he said. “If you’re organized, they won’t have any choice but to swear fealty to the agenda you’ve put out there.”
But how that translates into a presidential platform, which would also have to address contentious issues such as gay marriage and abortion, remains to be seen. Tea Party Patriots has avoided stances on conservative social issues and tried to steer politicians toward fiscal ones.
“We have to play a significant role in shaping what everybody talks about starting in Iowa,” Lewis said.
And regardless of who wins, Lewis said, tea party members would continue pushing for their agenda.
“We’re just going to have to be somewhat cold and demanding as soon as somebody’s elected. We’re not going to give them a break,” he said. “This movement is not going to be sentimental at all about the people it elects.”