Monday, January 31, 2011

Elephant Dung #11: The Tea Party prepares for 2012 takeover of GOP

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

To an extent, the Republican Party and the Tea Party are the same thing.

The latter isn't politically independent, even if a small minority of its members are, it's solidly Republican. And the Tea Party has become such a major part of the Republican Party that it's hard to tell the two apart.

To be sure, there are a number of Republicans, mostly in what has been the party "establishment," who aren't Teabaggers, but that number, and their power, appears to be in decline.

To put it another way, the Republican Party and the Tea Party (which, again, is mostly Republican anyway) have embraced each other. Now, another word for "embrace," in this context, is "co-opt," as each sees the other as its vehicle for electoral success. The Tea Party needs the Republican Party, and vice versa.

But, hugging notwithstanding, the relationship is not always amicable, not least with the Tea Party trying not just to co-opt the Republican Party but to take it over and control it. The Tea Party doesn't just want to be one of the Republican Party's main components but its dominant force. It doesn't want the Republican Party to be an umbrella party (like the Democratic Party) with multiple perspectives and policy positions within it, but a rigid ideological party of Tea Party dogma.

It wants the Republican Party, that is, to be the party of Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and the rest of the Teabaggers who ran last year to varying success. And, to that end, and drunk on delusion, it's gearing up for 2012:

Leaders of more than 70 Tea Party groups in Indiana gathered last weekend to sign a proclamation saying they would all support one candidate — as yet undetermined — in a primary challenge to Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Republican who has represented the state since 1977.

They are organizing early, they say, to prevent what happened last year, when several Tea Party candidates split the vote in Republican Senate primaries, allowing the most establishment of the candidates to win with less than 40 percent.

The meeting in Sharpsville was hardly the exception. Just three months after the midterm elections, Tea Party organizers are preparing to challenge some of the longest-serving Republican incumbents in 2012.

In Maine, there is already one candidate running on a Tea Party platform against Senator Olympia J. Snowe. Supporters there are seeking others to run, declaring that they, too, will back the person they view as the strongest candidate to avoid splitting their vote. In Utah, the same people who ousted Senator Robert F. Bennett at the state’s Republican convention last spring are now looking at a challenge to Senator Orrin G. Hatch.

The early moves suggest that the pattern of the last elections, in which primaries were more fiercely contested than the general election in several states, may be repeated.

They also show how much the Tea Party has changed the definition of who qualifies as a conservative. While Ms. Snowe is widely considered a moderate Republican, Mr. Hatch is not. Mr. Lugar, similarly, defines himself as a conservative.

Ah, but that's not good enough anymore.

You can't just be a "conservative," you have to be a Tea Party conservative, a right-wing extremist like Rand, Angle, and O'Donnell, predominantly on economic issues (where the insane views of Ayn Rand are standard fare) but also on social ones (the Tea Party may be known best for its views on "limited" government, but it's extremely conservative, if not generally theocratic, on social issues as well, even allowing for hyper-libertarian exceptions like Rand).

And if even an Orrin Hatch isn't good enough, well, you know just how far to the right the Tea Party is -- and would like the Republican Party to be.

So are we headed for an ugly, internally divisive Republican primary season, with Teabaggers challenging any and all Republicans who don't meet their far-right standards, including established conservatives like Hatch?

Hopefully. Let's see what these Teabaggers are made off -- and let's watch the Republican Party reap what it has sown. 

Bring it on.

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