How the Original Tea Party is Co-Opting the Establishment

Rand Paul Tea Party

Image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

“As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them,” said former senator and current lobbyist, Trent Lott in 2010, referring to the new Tea Party republicans that were about to enter Congress. As Wikipedia says, “a co-option is an act of absorbing or assimilating. It is normally used in the context of a group of persons assimilating a weaker or smaller group, with the intention of neutralizing a threat from the weaker group.”

The Tea Party, whose main goal was to elect people who were serious about cutting spending and reducing the size of government, needed to be dealt with. The establishment’s plan was to infiltrate them until there was nothing left to differentiate them from the establishment. And it worked. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 71% of Tea Party voters are supporting either Romney or Santorum.

Can you really tell the difference between a “tea partier” and a traditional republican, anymore? A member of the original Tea Party would never consider voting for someone like Santorum who voted to raise the debt ceiling five times, or for Romney, who supported TARP. The Tea Party was supposed to be comprised of people who were dead serious about cutting spending.

Now we find out that senator Mike Lee, one of the most prominent Tea Party senators elected in 2010, has endorsed TARP-endorser, Mitt Romney, after having criticized TARP during his campaign. There are many angry Mike Lee supporters right now who think Mike Lee has sold out and has turned his back on his principles. I certainly was shocked when I heard the news. But then it hit me. This is how the Tea Party is co-opting the establishment.

Think about it. Traditional republicans didn’t like the Tea Party, at first. Their ideas were considered “outside of the mainstream.” The Tea Party ideas were just too different from what republicans were used to hearing. “You want to get rid of which departments? Cut how much spending?”

Ron Paul, the real founder of the Tea Party (12/16/2007), is just not accepted by the traditional republican. Someone who refuses to get behind the party’s nominee should he not win, is certainly “outside of the mainstream.” And because of that, so are his ideas. But what happens when someone like Mike Lee decides to get behind Romney, now that he feels he is the inevitable nominee? What happens if Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, decides to get behind Romney if he does become the nominee? Well, it is the traditional republican that will have a tough time differentiating the Tea Party folks from those party insiders that they’ve trusted for so long. And this is a good thing!

Republicans will be more open to hearing about the “radical” ideas of real limited government if those ideas are being presented to them by people that they consider to be not so different from those guys they’re so used to listening to. And this is what it’s all about. It’s about taking the party back and restoring its identity as the party of limited government. This is hard to do without bringing on board many of those traditional republicans.

Here’s something I’ve realized for a long time. The people that do what is right are not always the minority, but those who do what is right for the right reasons certainly are. What I mean is that if we focus our efforts only on getting those people who really genuinely care about limited government, and do their own research, we will never have enough people to make a real difference within the republican party. We are going to need many republicans to vote for the original tea party ideas, for the wrong reasons. We are going to need those people who vote based on what the “consensus” within the party is; those who never diverge from the “mainstream.” They will always be the majority, and without them, we cannot achieve our goal.

Forget about converting every single republican into someone who studies Austrian Economics, understands monetary policy and really means it when they say that any program or department not authorized by the Constitution should be done away with. It will never happen. But make it “normal” to be for these things and you will have the votes to make a real difference in subsequent elections.

Ron Paul is doing his job. He is bringing new people into the party; people who really do care about the ideas the country was founded upon. Mike Lee’s job is a different one, and so is Rand Paul’s. Their job is to convince the existing republicans that being for the ideas that Ron Paul talks about, really is what it means to be a republican. If they have to endorse Romney in order to accomplish this, so be it. As long as they continue to promote the ideas of Liberty, the net effect will be a very positive one for the movement that Ron Paul started.

Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis, and let’s assume Romney is already the nominee. I’m not saying this thing is over. I’m still hoping for a brokered convention, but let’s assume Romney already won. If senators Lee and Paul were to refuse to endorse Romney, this would do nothing to help the cause, and it would cause republicans to reject them and their ideas, for not getting behind the party’s nominee. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is, and we are not going to change those people’s minds about that anytime soon.

On the other hand, republicans, especially other congressmen and senators, will have an easier time accepting people like Lee and Paul, if they show they are willing to help the party. And they don’t have to turn their back on their principles to do this.  It’s just an endorsement. It doesn’t mean they agree with Romney on every issue, and it doesn’t mean they have stopped believing in the ideas of limited government. Refusing to get behind the nominee will accomplish nothing other than make us feel good.

When Rand Paul decides to run for president, which I’m hoping will be in 2016, on a platform of real change, supporters of limited government and Federalism will not care that he got behind the establishment candidate this time around. They will realize it was a very small price to pay to get more republicans to vote for Liberty, even if they do it for the wrong reasons. The goal here is to become the new establishment.

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  • David Robertson

    Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of waiting until 2016. The dollar will collapse this year and then the American economy will go into freefall.

    It is time for radical action as proposed by Ron Paul. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the country not the Party.

    The people are tired of business as usual and RP represents their last best chance of real change. It really is time to put up or shut up.

    • Oh absolutely! I didn’t mention it in the article, but I do wish Lee had waited until after Romney was the nominee. I agree that this isn’t over and everyone should still be working to get Ron Paul elected. He is the only one with an actual plan to balance the budget. It amazes me how quickly people lose sight of what the problem is.

  • John

    The truth is, Romney is not the nominee yet. Endorsing him prior to him becoming the nominee is supporting him much more than necessary.

    It’s not good.

    • I do wish he would have waited, and I am surprised that he didn’t.

  • Ray

    Yeah right! This is just delusional thinking.

  • ___j___

    While I disagree with Ray that trying to blend in, and transforming the repub party back into the small-govt low-tax max-liberty party that it used to be, is somehow a delusional goal…

    …I also see it as a double-edged sword. There are plenty of teax-parteax folks like Paul Ryan around nowadays, that talk tough about cutting spending, but then campaign (with Mitt) for increasing the DoD budget now, and for maintaining 110% of the welfare state now, not counting repeal-n-replace of Obamacare with Romneycare2. *Eventually* getting a balanced budget, in five presidential terms….

    Sigh. There is such a clear contrast between that model, which involves trillion-dollar deficits in the near-term, and is only different from the Obama approach on *paper* since the theorized 2039 plan will never actually come to pass… versus a real plan to cut spending yesterday, balance the budget in one presidential term, and invert the deficit (to start PAYING DOWN the unsustainable debt) in two. Allowing both the Rand/Lee/DeMint budget proposal of April 2012 and the Paul Ryan budget to be called “tea party” is risky.

    Similarly, endorsing the presumptuous romineey in March, long before the delegate-math is clear, also seems risky. Rand delayed his endorsement until mid-June, when Newt & Santorum had dropped out, thus Romney was going to be able to avoid a brokered natcon.

    That’s not to say that failing to endorse the nominee is free of risks; look at what happened to Amash & Jones… not to mention Huelskamp and the fourth guy, most of whom failed to vote in favor of the Ryan budget as well. Risks all around, no matter our path. However, I do worry when Obama can call Ryan fiscally ‘extreme’ and ‘tea-party’ while not merely the media but also liberty-republicans let it happen. He is not really extreme. On the other hand, since they already called him extreme, what will they call Rand… who really is a radical for capitalism? Maybe they’re using up their best ammunition, on faux teax-parteax targets?