If Romney becomes the President-elect on November 6th, he will have facing him a momentous task of rebuilding national political leadership. While that is priority number one, there is also another job awaiting him that is likely as much of a challenge, rebuilding the Republican Party; and that will be the focus of this post.
The financial crisis and ensuing collapse of the economy has touched nearly everyone in a someway; and for many Republicans, the impact on national politics was traumatic. At least from my experience, it was as if the world of politics as we knew it just seemed to vanish over night. In the thick of the crisis, during the autumn of 2008, Republican political leaders seemed to vanish along with it. John McCain made an idiot out of himself over TARP. GW Bush was happy to be on his way out the door. There was almost no one left willing to stand for general principles of Republicanism, and Newsweek so boldly proclaimed “We are ALL socialists now!” Republicans weren’t just beaten in 2008; we were smashed into the ground with such velocity that we were practically vaporized.
From my perspective, I was not aware of how much damage had been done to the movement until a few months into the Obama Administration. I wanted to see what the new administration was going to be about, and what Democrats had in mind. I had no clue that Obama and his Democrats would be such ardent adherents to the extreme elements in their party; so I was not an immediate Tea Partier, although I don’t remember what finally pushed me over the edge into joining those who were taking matters into their own hands while the Republican politicians were cowering in a corner.
I was part of the first major Tax Day Tea Party protest in April 2009. I met many people who, like me, had never been involved in politics before and we were comforted by the realization that we weren’t alone in rejecting left leaning governance. Many of the people I met were not Republicans. They were independents, Libertarians, and a few were Democrats. We were all people who were fed up with being looked upon by the political system as bottomless piggybanks to serve the whims of politicians and the well connected. We were tired of being crapped on and then handed the bill. We were angry about TARP. We were angry about the economic mess. We were angry about the Recovery Act, about the corruption, about an uncertain future, and about our elected officials not standing up for Average Joe.
Many are still traumatized. We will never forget the man in the wheelchair handing out Gadsten stick-flags outside a Tea Party event in St. Louis being beaten so badly by SEIU thugs that he had to be hospitalized. It wasn’t the only act of violence or harassment that occurred, but it was the most memorable. Instead of frightening us into submission, however, it strengthened our resolve to stand against tyranny no matter what it took. In the midst of the outrage over attempts at intimidation, we had to remember our civility and “Ballots Instead of Bullets” became a popular slogan. I believe it helped keep the more radical elements of the Tea Party movement from doing regrettable things, and instead focused on organizing to reach our goals within the political system. It also had a cost, however, as a few of the political leaders who had been cowering while we were taking matters into our own hands survived to convince some of the larger Tea Party factions to fold into the Republican Party instead while only a few pockets of resistance remained.
Co-opted or not, much of the outrage still lingers even after a four years of fighting – fighting Democrats and fighting amongst different factions of the Republican Party. Even though I left the movement after a regrettable stance on monetary policy became entrenched, and I cannot be a part of that, I still hear about people standing their ground to never accept anyone who votes for anything that has even a hint of socialism or big government. Many swear they aren’t going to vote for Romney or any politician like him – ever.
These sentiments came out very strongly during the Presidential primary process. There was a candidate for nearly each faction of the Party resulting in some very lively debate. I can’t remember a more animated process of selecting a nominee as this one. My candidate, Gingrich, represented what is left of the Reaganite faction, and we lost in a very nasty negative campaign. It was an upsetting loss; and I wish I had the option of sitting out because I find Romney contemptible. But the first goal in order of priority is to vote out the worst President since Jimmy Carter, or perhaps since Andrew Johnson. It is a goal that most of us on the right share and so there exists an uneasy truce for the time being.
What happens after election night is anyone’s guess. If Romney wins, that will have been the easy part. If he loses, it might just well be the end of the Republican Party as we knew it.