Building a Real Reform Mandate
MICHAEL A. NEEDHAM | FROM ISSUE NUMBER 22 ~ WINTER 2015
The last four years in Washington have been defined by intense friction between the Tea Party grassroots and the so-called Republican establishment. From the fiscal cliff to the debate over defunding Obamacare to high-tension votes on the farm bill and transportation reauthorization, Republican leaders in Congress and the Tea Party have rarely seemed to be on the same page and have often fought openly in full view of the public.
To many reform-minded observers eager to help the Republican Party build a mandate for a conservative governing agenda, this discord appears pointless and counterproductive, undermining Republican efforts to project the steadiness needed to govern while accomplishing little to improve the likelihood of future conservative policy victories. The hostility inherent in such debates is exacerbated by a sense held by many of the well-intentioned participants that the motives of the Tea Party have been mysterious at best and nihilistic at worst. They worry that the Tea Party has no strategic or tactical vision. They see the Tea Party as an obstacle to reform rather than a partner.
From the perspective of the conservative grassroots and affiliated organizations, however, the friction of the last several years has been anything but pointless. It is a result of deep and irreconcilable disagreements between activist reformers and the Washington establishment over both the means conservatives should employ and the ends they should pursue. At its core, it is a dispute over how much the center-right should aim to disrupt the political status quo. Those eager to shake up the stale agenda of the Republican Party do their cause no service by standing on the sidelines or opposing the Tea Party's efforts; in this fight, reformers of all stripes must hope the Tea Party wins.
As the country turns its attention to the 2016 campaign, the 114th Congress cannot afford to squander the opportunity to present the country with a governing vision of its own. If the party hopes to win a mandate in 2017, it must begin the new Congress with bold congressional action. Given its influence in Congress, the Tea Party is sure to shape the nature of such action. The cause of reform therefore would be well served by a candid conversation regarding what it is that the Tea Party is aiming to accomplish — and how.