Are we about to have a major change in political power in the United States? It's too early to say, but so far the Tea Party backed candidates have done better than anyone could have expected. The general election is yet to be held but it is clear that many are no longer regarding them as a fringe to be ignored. A measure of that can be found in Russ Feingold's claim to Tea Party backing. Nobody would accuse Feingold of being right wing but he sees political advantage in claiming association with them.
This is a major shift from just a couple of weeks ago when most politicians were trying to ignore the Tea Party. They claimed it was out of the mainstream, a fringe group, a passing fad. Of course it remains to be seen if that movement really has staying power, but both politicians and the news have now been forced to take it seriously. They have defeated several establishment candidates in primary elections and it would be surprising if they do not win at least a few congressional seats in the general election. If congress ends up narrowly divided that could give Tea Party people the swing vote on many issues.
Furthermore, the Tea Party's natural audience is growing. A large majority of voters no longer trust their government and want it pared back. People are upset about big government, high taxes, Obamacare and other issues. Voters favoring Tea Party candidates and other mavericks are much more enthusiastic about voting than are other voters.
What will be the outcome? Prophecy is dangerous so I am reluctant to make firm predictions. However I believe the Tea Party will be able to influence the next congress, either by controlling swing votes or by public pressure on representatives. If exercised wisely that power could slow or even reverse the trend toward ever bigger and more powerful government in this country.
The next question is if those people will have staying power. I remember the Republican “Contract With America” and how it put Republicans in charge of congress during the Clinton Administration. It was a well thought out plan which grabbed the attention and support of voters. As a result the Republicans took over Congress and promptly shot themselves in the foot. They started acting in an arrogant manner, several being caught in major scandals. They also continued to support pork barrel projects, changing only the beneficiaries. The result was that they quickly lost what they had gained. Should the Tea Party supporters duplicate those actions we can expect them to also duplicate the quick exit from power of the Contract With America Republicans. They need to do better.
In case they are listening, here are my suggestions for any Tea Party candidates who get elected:
1. Stay humble. Put something on your mirror to remind you to avoid arrogance. That should be where you cannot miss it every time you shave or put on make-up. If you ever become arrogant it will be all over for you. Remember that you are fallible and the voters are your boss.
2. Institute a zero tolerance policy toward any behavior that could lead to scandal. If one of your people is unfaithful to a spouse, engaged in financially questionable activities, or anything else of that nature, give him the boot. Make it publicly known that he is no longer in good standing with the Tea Party movement. I mean immediately, once the evidence is in treat him like an outcast. I don't care how important you think he is to the movement, you cannot afford a scandal.
3. Do all you can to block pork-barrel projects, earmarks etc. That includes those any of your own people propose. Publicize those wasteful expenditures and how much they are costing the taxpayers.
4. Articulate constitutional principles and why they are important. Refuse to support any appointee or project that is even questionable constitutionally.
5. Avoid any taint of racism and be religious about rooting out anything that appears racist. Pay attention to both real Tea Party people and the agents provocateurs your enemies will try to insert into the movement.
If the Tea Party people will do that I believe they can provide a lasting influence for the better on our politics. If they fail in any of those areas they will be a short-lived phenomenon.