The Winning Ideas of the Tea Party | Commentary
Analysts and politicos are atwitter over Ben Sasse’s convincing win in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in Nebraska. Sasse rode to victory on a wave of support by tea party groups in a three-way contest for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Johanns and is well positioned to become the next senator from the Cornhusker State. The thing that has the chattering class in overdrive is how to interpret Sasse’s win.
Some will say it shows the continued strength of the tea party and that conservatives are still dominating the discussion. We like to think that’s true. Others will say the Sasse win is meaningless because it was an open primary for a widely considered “safe” Republican seat, and that the tea party is waning in influence. This illustrates the weekly play-by-play of primary politics; it’s a discussion that prefers process over policy. Process is simple, and easy to deliver and digest. It’s also a little silly. Policy, on the other hand, is a heavier lift. It demands understanding the issues, appreciation for the consequences of doing something or doing nothing and the intellect to cut through the misinformation and misunderstanding that invariably attends genuine policy discussions.
Sasse was the person who won Tuesday’s primary but just as importantly, his policies reflecting personal freedom, economic freedom and a debt-free future also won. These are the core principles of Tea Party Patriots and other groups, but these policies are largely absent from the discussion. The reality is that it’s no stretch to say the tea party movement has a batting average of close to 1.000 in this year’s early elections, not because of specific people who won or lost but because of the ideas we share; ideas that are resonating with voters.
Even in races in which “official” tea-party-backed candidates did not win, our ideas did. In the contest for the GOP Senate nomination in North Carolina, the winning candidate last week campaigned on “cut, cap and balance,” for the federal budget in an effort to reduce our federal debt, the defunding and repeal of Obamacare, protection of constitutional liberties, opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants and shrinking the federal government.
In the 2nd Congressional District of North Carolina, the winner May 6 warned that federal spending, “must be reined in immediately or we will leave our grandchildren a legacy of debt,” that America must, “protect and defend its borders,” and that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with “free-market-based and patient-centered solutions,” to health care. Similarly, the winner in Ohio’s 14th Congressional District last week also promotes the defunding and repeal of Obamacare, and wants to shave $200 billion from the federal budget.
In each of these races, our policies won. In each case, the voters agreed with our position on the issues and our agenda was validated. Yet the results were somehow interpreted by the shallow-minded as signaling the demise of the tea party. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Mark Twain once wrote to a confused reporter, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Sasse’s victory in Nebraska does not necessarily signal the death of the establishment Republican Party. Neither does the victory earlier this year of Curt Clawson, who was embraced by Tea Party Patriots and other groups, and won his special election campaign last month in Florida. The same goes for David Jolly’s March win in his congressional race, a testament to the effort of tea party activists across that district.
The important thing is that intelligent conservatives know that when we stick to our core principles and explain them to the American people, we win. It is when Republicans stray from those principles that liberals are able to seize power and bring about the sort of policy disasters we’ve seen over the past five years. That is the meaning of Ben Sasse’s victory May 13 and others who campaigned on tea party principles. If the establishment GOP can learn this lesson and apply those principles, so much the better.
Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.