- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2010


For voters and political activists who dictated the course of the 2010 elections with their cause of limited government and debt reduction, Tuesday’s outcome doesn’t signal the war has been won. The struggle, they say, now has entered a tougher phase.

“‘Tea party’ activists around the country have a deep concern that the Republican establishment will hijack our ability to turn campaign promises into substantive action,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based limited-government advocacy group that has allied itself with the “tea party” movement.

The tea party movement, less than 2 years old, is getting much of the credit for shaping the outcome of the elections.

“The activists I address around the country are committed to the idea that tea party goals of cutting back the government’s spending and its reach are a long-term project,” Mr. Kibbe said.

Experienced GOP politicos are not shy about giving an admiring - or intimidated - nod to the tea party’s power to move voters, knock off establishment-endorsed rivals and mold the narrative in the media.

“The rise of the tea parties coincided with the rebirth of Republican support in polls, as independent-minded voters rejoined the GOP fold,” said Matt Schlapp, who was a White House political director under President George W. Bush. “Republicans who curse tea party activists should imagine where the GOP would have been on election night 2010 without this movement.”

But the impact of the new tea party-backed lawmakers on policy, legislation and the GOP agenda in general is hard to calculate. It’s hard even to say exactly how many of the incoming class of GOP House and Senate freshman embrace the tea party’s philosophy - just as it’s hard to get a firm handle on how many tea party activists went to the polls.

The first impulse is to conclude that the nation has entered an era of change - but not the Obamaesque “change we can believe in” that independent voters embraced two years ago.

This time, millions of voters cast ballots to undo the changes Mr. Obama delivered, changes that turned out not to be to the liking of many of those same voters who flocked to him in 2008.

A striking feature of the midterm campaign was the sight of so many prominent Republican politicians - despite the flood of favorable polls - pleading for voter forgiveness for the corporate bailouts, the expansion of entitlement programs and the rising spending levels while Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House prior to 2006.

“Tea partiers feel [President George W.] Bush betrayed them with TARP, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the [education reform act] and the Medicare prescription-drug plan,” said Solomon Yue, co-founder of a caucus of conservatives on the Republican National Committee.

The rebellions against the financial and corporate bailouts - begun under Mr. Bush but endorsed and expanded under Mr. Obama - were rooted in a deep and long-standing popular reluctance to reward failure and shield people from the consequences of their own mistakes.

But the opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature health care overhaul law presented a more complicated political question for candidates of both parties.

“I didn’t vote for the health care bill because it wasn’t the right formula, and I was worried about the overall cost,” said, Rep. Glenn Nye, a Virginia Democrat campaigning for re-election.

Reservations by moderate Democrats - coupled with the messy, closed-door dealings that got the massive bill approved in the end - cost the party and Mr. Obama the support of large numbers of independent voters.

“Americans may want government subsidies and guarantees but they deeply dislike bureaucrats running their lives and imposing Washington decisions on them,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times. “They concluded Obamacare would make their health insurance more expensive, their health care qualitatively worse, and that President Obama was transferring their income and their doctors’ to help other people.”

Mr. Gingrich predicted that the next Congress would “repeal” the health care measure. Maybe, but unhappy voters looking for change probably won’t find it in the GOP leadership.

Mr. Schlapp said that, even with the injection of new Republican faces in the House and the Senate, the party’s leadership - including House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky - remain in place. The last time Republicans controlled Congress, neither Mr. Boehner nor Mr. McConnell was closely associated with an unshakable commitment to lower federal spending or smaller government.

But Mr. Schlapp said he thinks Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell “understand their job from now on is to push the president back from radical policies and to draw a responsible line in the sand on government spending.”

Jeff Frederick, a conservative who served in the Virginia House of Delegates, said he doubts the tea party freshmen in the House will drive the GOP agenda.

“I have no idea how many freshmen will be true-blue tea partiers, but even many who are will drink the Kool-Aid pretty quickly,” said Mr. Frederick, a former Virginia GOP chairman. “[House Minority Whip] Eric Cantor will come and tap them on the shoulder and ask them to ‘be good team players’ or something.”

Mr. Frederick predicted that some of the GOP freshmen “will emerge as dynamite tea party conservatives with backbone, but most won’t. They’ll decide they like the digs and the title and will do what the establishment tells them to do so they can - they think - stick around and keep being a member of the club.”

But “even the GOP establishment in Congress does have a mandate now to cut spending and to have a vote to repeal Obamacare - and perhaps a more serious effort to defund it,” Mr. Frederick said.

Conservatives say outside groups that spent more than $50 million over the past few months to help get Republicans elected will have to pitch in to help push limited government

“Congress aside, it’s time now for the conservative independent expenditure groups to turn around and build the case for less government spending,” Mr. Schlapp said.

In at least one prominent case, that’s already on the agenda.

“We intend to support conservative principles and help conservative Republicans in Congress for the next two years leading up to the presidential elections of 2012,” said Mike Duncan, chairman of American Crossroads, the biggest of those groups.

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