Rise of the Tea Party?

By Paul Moomjean 07/03/2014

Political movements and parties swing the pendulum all too often. There was a time in American history when black people were Republicans (1960s) and Democrats were fighting the civil rights movements. In fact, Richard Nixon was able to win over the South from the Democratic Party with his 1970s Southern Strategy, playing off the old-fashioned South’s anti-progressive values and convincing them that the Republican Party heard their cries. In the 1980s Democrats like Al Gore were fighting free speech in rock music and were against gay marriage, whereas many forget that Ronald Reagan was a supporter of gay rights and immigration reform that many conservatives today would have hung him high for. Today the Republican Party is at its own crossroad. Are the Dick Cheneys leaving while the Tea Party heroes are rising? By looking at the current political landscape and the booting out of Republican Eric Cantor (house majority leader, Virginia) for unknown Tea Party member David Brat, could the next political wave be what destroys 30 years of conservatism?

When Cantor lost to Brat a few weeks ago the media was stunned. How could this be? In fact, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert made more fun of the media’s reactions than the fact that for the first time in history the house majority leader was sent packing in a primary. Sure, politicians like Tom Daschle, D (senate minority leader) were thrown out in general elections, but never in a primary where voter turnout was lower than in general elections. Stewart and Colbert mocked the hyperbolic responses by MSNBC and Fox News, who called the events “shocking” and “amazing.” To explain this political anomaly, the consensus generally is that Cantor’s willingness to work on immigration reform cost him the election.

Cantor was accused by Tea Party members of supporting amnesty for approximately 11 million illegal immigrants, and that has become the kiss of death for Republicans who want to reform the system. But what will happen if Republicans resist the influx of undocumented immigrants? New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer, D, said it best with: “Cantor’s defeat does not change the fundamental fact that Republicans will become a minority party if they don’t address our broken immigration system.” And he’s right. In this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” world, the GOP is about to have a civil war between the old guard that desires compromise for votes and the illusion of power, and the new kids on the block who want purism and conservative ideology sprinkled all over Washington. But is the Tea Party about to throw the baby out with the bathwater or shoot itself in the foot?

If the primary election is a precursor of things to come, and Republicans are going to be slandered for opening up the immigration issue by hard-core Tea Party members, then we might be seeing a huge shift in modern politics. What the old guard understands is that a progressive immigration act is coming if conservatives want it or not. The system is broken, with illegal parents, legal kids, border crossers in holding cells, employment issues across corporations from coast to coast, and cultural conflicts within a very religious group that wants to support Democrats for welcoming them in freely and Republicans who respect their stances on religion, traditional marriage and abortion. Cantor understood that, by rejecting 11 million immigrants, he’d be seeing a vengeful voting group reminded of a party that said we don’t want you. What the Tea Party sees is a country being taken over by a group of people with their own language, culture, and no desire to vote conservative their first few years here. 

By 2016 politicians will have many issues to address. Iraq. Health care. The war on terror. And now immigration. If the GOP fears for its life and goes the way of the Tea Party, how will the GOP survive a general election? If conservatives go the way of Eric Cantor, how bloody will the primaries get?

The Tea Party has set itself up to be a bigger presence than most predicted. Thought dead, it just slayed Goliath. But if the Tea Party keeps knocking down the establishment, do conservatives really want a party without giants?

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