November 13, 2013 12:00 AM
Tea Party Must Learn from Mistakes
The battle against other Republicans is a distraction.
In opposing Obamacare, the Tea Party took a position that increasing numbers of Americans agree with now that Obamacare’s potential for disaster is becoming clearer by the day. But in trying to defund Obamacare without the congressional votes to do so, the Tea Party made a major tactical mistake.
Polls show that this mistake has already hurt the Republican party, the only party that has any chance of repealing Obamacare. To have any realistic prospect of repealing Obamacare may require the Republicans to win both the 2014 and 2016 elections.The Tea Party’s failed and foredoomed defunding effort predictably got the Republicans blamed for shutting down the government. The fact that the Democrats also went down in the polls means nothing. Politics is a zero-sum game. If it hurts the Republicans more, that helps the Democrats.
Some defend the futile attempt to defund Obamacare on grounds that it is much harder to repeal a law after it has gone into operation. That may often be true — but not always.
Prohibition was repealed — and it was a constitutional amendment, not just a piece of legislation. Prohibition could not be repealed by Congress alone, but required state legislatures to vote for repeal as well. Like Obamacare, Prohibition sounded good to a lot of people before it went into effect. Only after they saw what a disaster it was in practice did people change their minds.
We are already seeing people changing their minds about Obamacare, after they experienced the multiple disasters that are just starting to emerge. That includes congressional Democrats who had voted for it.
If mistakes were always fatal, the human race would have become extinct long ago. So the fact that the Tea Party made a tactical misjudgment is not the end of the world. Everything depends on whether you learn from your mistake or refuse to admit that it was a mistake, even to yourself — which is often the biggest mistake of all.
Barack Obama is currently giving a free demonstration of how refusing to admit your mistake can cost you public support, and even undermine your support within your own party.
The Tea Party does not need to repeat the same mistake that Obama has made — especially since their principles are the opposite of his. The Tea Party is for protecting individual freedom from the ever growing, and ever more intrusive, power of government.
Friend and foe alike see the Tea Party as not just a bunch of politicians trying to stay in office, but people with a purpose beyond going along to get along. The Left’s desperate — and dishonest — efforts to discredit the Tea Party show that they understand its threat to their expanding government agenda.
The question is whether the Tea Party itself still has its eye on the ball — the goals it was formed to serve — or is letting itself get preoccupied with its battle against other Republicans.
Heaven knows there are Republicans who deserve criticism. But neither fervor nor ego can justify wholesale challenges to Republican incumbents in next year’s primary elections. The end result of such self-indulgence is likely to be getting more Democrats elected, making repeal of Obamacare virtually impossible. We can only hope that this is not what the Tea Party has in mind, not only for their sake, but for the sake of the country.
A haunting example from history was the doctrinaire wing of the abolitionists, who ran their own presidential candidate in the 1860 elections, even though he had no chance of winning, and simply split the anti-slavery vote, so that Abraham Lincoln got just 40 percent of the popular vote when he won in a crowded field.
The doctrinaire were willing to risk a pro-slavery candidate being elected president of the United States at a critical juncture in history, which would have condemned millions of human beings to more decades, or perhaps generations, in slavery.
Whatever your principles, you have to weigh the human consequences from whatever you do in the name of those principles.
There are millions of Americans today who are losing their insurance and their doctor — and who may also lose everything financially to identity thieves, if Obamacare is as careless with their private information as early reports indicate. These Americans are infinitely more important than internal battles among Republicans.
— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Sowell has a point, which is that the end result of the next few years has got to be the election of Republicans who are committed to the elimination of Obamacare, as well as to small government principles. That's not to say that the Republican establishment is blameless, far from it, they've been undermining conservative candidates and principles long before the Tea Party came around, and the lion's share of the blame for this feud is on their heads. However, to the extent that the Tea Party expends its resources against Republicans who are not hostile to them, they are wasting those resources and providing Democrats with opportunities. At the same time, the Republican establishment's abandonment of Ken Cuccinelli in the VA governor's race was a self-inflicted wound, but only the latest one in a long line of retreats since conservatism first became a viable political philosophy. That has to stop. We never see Democrats doing that. Once a Democrat has gotten the party's nomination, nothing short of, well... nothing, will keep Democrats from supporting that candidate, even if the candidate is demonstrably corrupt, incompetent or downright evil. It just doesn't happen. Democrats only care about winning, and they will do whatever it takes to win, regardless of the consequences. We don't have the luxury of fighting ideological battles within our own ranks unless we are in a position to make policy, and to do that, we need to be in the majority in both houses and have the executive branch.
There needs to be a truce. Towards that end, the RNC should establish strict neutrality in primaries, and then commit to wholehearted support for the Republican candidate in the general election, even if that candidate offends the establishment's sensibilities. That means that the party will provide financial support, and other Republicans who may not approve of the candidate will shut the hell up about them. To quote John McCain, elections have consequences, and primaries are elections. Remember that the guy who beat you in the primary today may be in a position to endorse you or steer money your way in your next election bid.
In return, the Tea Partiers need to confine their primary challenges to those Republicans who have broken faith with the base and routinely demonstrate that they cannot be trusted to advance conservative policies, and whose defeat in a primary will not result in a Republican loss in the general election. John McCain and Lindsay Graham come to mind as obvious examples of red state Republicans who are out of touch with the electorate and need to go, and who will almost certainly be replaced by better candidates from within their states. In the bluer states, the same rules should apply as above: fight the good fight in the primary, and then dust yourself off and support the winner against the common enemy of liberty. If establishment types understand that they cannot win without the support of the base, they will be less inclined to go against it.