Why Winning Elections Is the Last Thing the Tea Party Wants

Keith Humphreys asks a provocative question: Does the Tea Party even want to win elections? This comes up in response to a long article in the National Review by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry telling the Tea Party to get its head out of the clouds and start doing things that will help Republicans win. While it's tricky to ascribe specific desires and intentions to a large, complicated collection of people like the Tea Party, to the extent we can, I think the answer to whether they want to win is pretty clearly no. And there's a certain logic to it.

The reason is that the Tea Party is an oppositional movement, and oppositional movements only thrive when they're in the opposition. They can talk all they like about both Republicans and Democrats being part of the problem, and being opposed just to "Washington," but we all know that at its heart it's about Barack Obama and everything he represents. If Hillary Clinton or another Democrat becomes president in 2016, most of the anger and resentment that gives the movement life will get transferred to that person, and it will continue. But as I've held for a few years now, as a movement the Tea Party has a firm expiration date, which is the inauguration of the next Republican president.

The movement also holds a contempt for compromise of any sort as one of its fundamental pillars, which is fairly easy to stick with when your side is out of power. It's not like you're going to be getting much of what you want anyway, so you can scoff at the half-loaves your more reasonable colleagues are offering up. But when there's a Republican administration the gifts to conservatism will be showering down from every cloud, and they'll be much tougher to say no to. How about we give you an appointment at the EPA, where you can destroy the agency from the inside instead of railing at it from the street? What say we do the same to the Labor Department? Now that our bills won't get vetoed, let's start slashing away at food stamps and CHIP and all those other programs the "takers" suckle on. It's time to party! In that atmosphere, there's so much to say yes to that saying no to everything isn't so attractive anymore.

And when it can't shout "No!", the Tea Party will have no more reason for being. Obviously, even if it's dead as a movement, many of the people who championed it will still be in Congress. But saying no won't be as attractive for them either. It's one thing to imagine yourself a brave warrior standing up against Barack Obama and his plan to turn America into a nightmare of socialist misery. It's another to, say, fight against cuts to Medicaid because you want even bigger cuts to Medicaid. That's far less romantic.

So no, as a whole the Tea Party doesn't have much of an interest in winning elections, because if it helped Republicans have a resounding win, it would literally be the last thing the movement ever did.

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