What if the Tea Party has changed things?

800px-Tea_Party_Wisconsin_2011What if the Tea Party has changed politics permanently? It is a little early to predict how the next presidential primary campaign will go for the Republican Party. Twelve months ago most people were tipping Marco Rubio as the front runner. Now he trails and people are talking about Ted Cruz. The situation may change again during 2014. But let me venture one prediction: Rand Paul and (probably) Chris Christie will be major figures in the campaign.

Paul will be a major player because he has inherited a network of contacts from his father and connects well with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Paul is less fundamentalist than his father in his isolationism, though is still going to be a tough sell in South Carolina and Florida. The establishment will rally around someone, and it could well be Christie. He needs, first of all, to emerge unscathed from the bridge controversy, and then make a mark in New Hampshire. If so, those opposed to Paul will probably rally to him. 

Last year, the big argument on national security issues pitched these two against each other, and both emerged with an enhanced profile. A discussion on immigration or social issues would not play as well for them but, for the sake of argument, let us imagine that the battle comes down to this fight between Paul and Christie.

These two fiscal conservatives differ on a number of issues, but there is one thing they clearly have in common: neither is the candidate of the religious right. Prior to the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 who could even have imagined that the GOP could have a presidential contest in which the religious right did not even have a candidate in play? There has not been one since 1988, when George H W Bush defeated Bob Dole, and even then Pat Robertson almost derailed things with a second place finish, ahead of Bush, in the Iowa caucuses. 

On the whole, Democrats and liberal commentators in the media misunderstand the Tea Party. Some choose to imagine that it is all about race, which is not even a minor factor. Others portray it as principally a religious movement, which it is not. T E A – taxed enough already. That’s not to say that there is no overlap between Tea Party members and the religious right, but labeling it as a Christian conservative movement is like calling Greenpeace a labor union because many liberals support both. Fiscal conservatives and religious conservatives have different agendas which sometimes overlap, sometimes conflict, but usually are unrelated. People can support one, or both, or neither, because most of the time they address different issues. Your views on taxes are simply unconnected to your views on abortion or gay marriage.

Bill Clinton drove the religious right crazy, but his presidency was not at all bad for fiscal conservatives. There were early tax rises and a loopy health plan, but after the GOP took control of Congress those plans stopped dead. Government spending rose slowly – more slowly than the economy as a whole – and there was a strong commitment to free trade. 

This president is different. His healthcare reform was successfully adopted and he has continued his predecessor’s policy of dramatically expanding government. Fiscal conservatives are motivated and the balance may be tilting towards them. 

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com 


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