The upset victory of Deb Fischer in the Nebraska Republican U.S. senate
primary, following so closely Richard Mourdock's upset victory in the
Indiana Republican U.S. senate primary (over 6-term incumbent Richard
Lugar), indicates that the phenomenon of the 2010 elections, the Tea Party,
has not been entirely sleeping in the 2012 cycle.
The Tea Party is not a centrally controlled, or easily defined, grass roots
movement. I've heard it said that 47 different organizations are considered
part of the Tea Party. It has no official leaders or spokespersons. After its
huge influence in the 2010 elections, it was expected to play a major role in
2012, especially in the GOP presidential contest. However, the Tea Party,
as such, was overshadowed in 2011-12 by the libertarian Ron Paul candidacy,
Newt Gingrich's resurgency, and finally, the emergence in the later primaries
of GOP social conservatives. The eventual presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney,
was not a Tea party figure. There was much talk that the Tea Party, a c
onservative grass roots economic movement, had evaporated or been put to
sleep. Two prominent Tea party figures, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann,
had either not entered the presidential contest, or soon failed in it.
A left wing grass roots movement, Occupy Wall Street, had arisen after 2010,
and enjoyed a brief notoriety, When the Occupy movement tried to revive
itself in early May, its efforts fizzled. So, too, thought many was the fate of
the Tea Party.
The big difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (and its
various "Occupy" progeny) is that the former is a popular conservative
voter movement, and less an ideological phenomenon than a response to real
economic conditions in the nation, while the latter is a radical ideological
movement of activists who have no real voter base.
There has been much hand-wringing over the defeat of long-time U.S.
Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. Mr. Lugar had many years of
distinguished service in the senate, including his time as chairman of the
powerful foreign relations committee, but at 80 years of age, and holding
some foreign policy views no longer in the conservative mainstream, it
was time for him to retire. A seat in the U.S. senate is not a dukedom, nor
is this institution similar to the British house of lords. Each election is
intended to be a renewal of the right to hold office. Mr. Lugar overstayed
his welcome in his own party. He will be replaced by an experienced
political figure who holds views much closer to the emerging new conservative
The same seems to be true of Nebraska state legislator Deb Fischer who came
suddenly from behind to defeat frontrunner state Attorney General Jon Bruning,
the candidate of the old conservative establishment.
In Utah, long-time Senator Orrin Hatch has, for now, avoided a similar fate
by paying attention to Utah Tea Party issues, but he still faces a primary and a
Tea party-backed opponent.
In Wisconsin, GOP icon Tommy Thompson, long-time governor, failed to
win party endorsement recently, and he now faces a primary challenge from
a Tea Party favorite.
I have suggested for almost a year now that the Republicans are almost certain
to win back control of the U.S. senate from the Democrats in 2012. This was
based on the fact that twice as many Democrats are up for election this year,
and that many of them are vulnerable. Since that time, a few surprises (such as
the unexpected retirement of Maine's Olympia Snowe) have occurred, but the
basic circumstance is mostly unchanged. In fact, as of late, there seems to be
even more a voter trend to the Republicans.
The four U.S. senate races previously mentioned, even if all the incumbents
and GOP establishment figures are defeated by Tea Party challengers, should
be in Republican hands in January, 2013. But the philosophy of the new and
GOP-controlled senate would be quite different. This is what Tea Party voters
are fighting for, a renewed set of conservative operating principles.
The national elections of 2010 brought the legislative momentum of the Obama
administration to a halt, but it did not replace the radical Obama agenda with a
conservative one. That requires both the presidency and control of both houses
of Congress. The focus, for Tea Party activists in 2012, is the campaign for
control of the U.S. senate.
That is why, from seeming to slumber, the Tea Party grass roots movement has
Has this movement found in their senate candidates of 2012 more consistently
appealing figures than in 2010 (when several eccentric Tea Party senate
candidates lost)? Can the Tea party movement muster a strong enough subset
of the GOP senate to assert their economic views during the next adminsitration?
The answers to these questions will come from remaining primaries and the
autumn election contests. It is one of the most intriguing aspects of the 2012
campaign season, hitherto preoccupied with the GOP presidential nomination,
which will play itself out to an historic and momentous election day.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.