Tea Party politics has taken on an air of Animal House. No, I don’t mean Animal Farm, the George Orwell allegory against communism. In that novel, animals take over the farm and run it as a collective into corruption and destruction. The Tea Party version would have been shorter, with the animals burning down their own barn.
I mean the 1978 John Belushi vehicle Animal House, from which national Tea Party groups seem to invoke those memorable words by Dean Vernon Wormer, “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.”
Let’s be clear. The Tea Party was never about being an arm of the Republican Party. The Tea Party was about opposing taxes and reducing spending. Various organizations, nationally and locally, in the Tea Party movement took ownership of other conservative issues including fighting Obamacare. In passing conservative policy or opposing liberal policy, Tea Party supporters were natural allies of – or already identified themselves as – Republicans.
Republican elected officials embraced these groups as the base of their party. Winston Churchill once wrote, “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.” The men Churchill described weld great power, but are also captive of that power and somewhat dependent on the whims of the beast. If they dismount their steed, they die. Now, some Republicans find themselves in the position of riding a Tea Party tiger.
Republicans mounted the tiger and in 2010, the Tea Party was instrumental in giving Republicans control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But then the Tea Party was also instrumental in preventing Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2014. In those two elections, the Tea Party tiger rode into Republican primaries and devoured candidates electable in moderate states in favor of more conservative, but unelectable, standard bearers.
I agree with the William F. Buckley rule of conservative activism: support the most conservative candidate who can get elected. Sometimes, in some states, that means a moderate or even (gasp) a liberal Republican. I’d rather have a Republican majority that must compromise to satisfy its liberal members, than a Democratic majority whose liberal policies cannot be stopped.