With Rick Santorum suspending his campaign and Newt Gingrich admitting that Mitt Romney is the likely Republican nominee, the Tea Party’s commitment to conservative purity is about to be tested in the fires of political reality. Mr. Romney’s arms-length relationship with the conservative wing of his party has not made him a favorite of the Tea Party, and the movement faces a defining choice.
The radical regime of Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi awakened a sleeping giant of mainstream America and gave birth to the Tea Party. The movement gave a voice to those who saw going along to get along as part of the problem, and that voice roared from state legislatures through the halls of Congress with the Republican landslide of 2010.
What happens to the Tea Party’s credibility as a grass-roots conservative movement if it now goes along with a Republican candidate who was not even on partyers’ shortlist? Will the Tea Party be viewed as little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of one party, as more partisan than principled?
On the other hand, what happens to America if President Obama gets a second term? With almost half of the electorate paying none of the income taxes that fund Mr. Obama’s promises, the 2012 election will be close enough that a disengaged Tea Party could tip the election to Mr. Obama. Mainstream Americans of all political stripes agree that the country could not survive a second Obama term in any form that we would want to pass on to our children.
The deeper question the Tea Party is facing goes beyond supporting or not supporting Mr. Romney: Will it be a serious and lasting political force, or will it be a one-landslide wonder? We did not get in this mess overnight, and we will not recover overnight. The restoration of America can happen only if we view this battle as a marathon, not a sprint.
The left-wing minority understands the prime rule of politics, that a minority willing to push their agenda over time will always dominate a majority wanting only to be left alone. Conservatives, by our very nature, are independent; we want to be left alone. The left knows that, and it is central to the strategy it has used to defeat us.
Liberals meddle. Nearly every intrusive political initiative in this country comes from the far left. They demand, they accuse, they make noise. Conservatives resist for a while, but leftists escalate until someone reaches across the aisle to appease them in a vain effort to keep the peace. The cycle of appeasement then repeats, government grows and liberty retreats, one compromise at a time.
The liberal minority runs America because mainstream Americans are the summer tourists of politics and liberals are the locals. Conservatives vote, and then we go home to push the lawn mower. Leftists stay behind and push their agenda until they win. In the vital time between elections, the only real pressure on elected officials comes from the left. Until conservatives are willing to stay in the game after the election, our electoral victories will only slow the left’s advance.
Wisconsin Republicans have turned their state in a sane direction, yet the heroes of that effort are facing recall elections orchestrated by the far left. The Tea Party won Congress in 2010, but the left broke the conservative advance because it went to work attacking the new Congress while conservatives went to work earning a living and paying their taxes. Even when conservatives win elections, our agenda is thwarted by liberal pressure groups that never quit.
A Republican administration needs to do three things to steer America away from the approaching cliff:
Repeal Obamacare to stop the federal power grab in its tracks.
Create a business-friendly environment that puts America back to work and grows tax revenue without tax increases.
Cut waste and focus on essentials to restore sanity to the budget.
Mr. Romney can do all three, and he will attempt all three if he is elected. The question for the Tea Party is not whether to back Mr. Romney; that should go without saying. The question is whether Mr. Romney - or any Republican - can do those three things if the only pressure after the election comes from the left, as it always has.
The giant is finally awake. Now the question is whether the giant will learn to flex its political muscle once the election is over.
Timothy C. Daughtry is CEO of Concord Bridge Consulting and co-author of “Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game” (Beaufort Books, 2012).