If Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich and perhaps Bobby Jindal—orthodox Republican conservatives all—hope to run for president in 2016, they’ll may have to perform a tricky maneuver: winning the backing of the GOP’s mainstream, big-money donors, including the US Chamber of Commerce, while rallying the electoral support of ultraconservatives who support the floundering Tea Party movement. But it might turn out that the Tea Party isn’t so influential after all.
The Tea Party—the institutional Tea Party, not necessarily the bloc of the GOP electorate that identified with it—continues to have its difficulties, especially in the wake of the 2013 government shutdown. Yesterday, at a conference in Washington, DC, the Tea Party Patriots organization celebrated its fifth anniversary as a force in American politics, but it was decidedly a lackluster event, and even The Washington Times headlined that it is “struggling.” Among other things, its preferred candidates in Republican primaries around the country seem at a loss, as Michael Gerson, a conservative pundit at The Washington Post, noted:
Tea party challenges have fizzled in Kentucky and Texas. They are fading in Kansas, Tennessee and South Carolina. And even in Mississippi—where Sen. Thad Cochran is a vulnerable incumbent—the tea party insurgent struggles to explain his recent skeptical reaction when asked about Katrina relief funding.
Two influential writers who’ve penned articles for The National Interest, both credentialed conservatives, have analyzed the GOP’s ongoing civil war, or civil strife—or as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a Tea Party favorite, called it yesterday at the Tea Party Patriots meeting, “civil debate”—and, in the articles and in follow-up interviews with Christie Watch, they outlined their takes on where the GOP might be headed.
In the first piece, “The GOP’s Identity Crisis,” Paul Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest, a conservative-realist think tank in Washington, says that the Tea Party has the support of about 38 percent of GOP voters, but that the Republican party’s mainstream establishment, which historically has had the upper hand, is still the dominant factor. In an interview with Christie Watch, Saunders said:
People have been excited about the Tea Party and the insurgent forces. But the fact that they were able to play such a big role on the debt ceiling doesn’t mean that they have taken over the Republican party or defeated the establishment. Normally, the establishment wins. Looking ahead to 2016, they should be able to incorporate—or perhaps co-opt is a better word—the Tea Party and move on.