Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Republicans' Tea Party Problem

U.S.News & World Report

Presumably Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele doesn't need to be told that a document that approved of slavery and counted slaves as three-fifths persons was defective. Nor would the framers have taken offense since they included a mechanism for amending the Constitution and immediately used it to add on the Bill of Rights.

But the GOP defense of the Constitution was not about rational, mainstream argument. It was aimed squarely at the hyperpatriotic, kitchen table constitutional scholars who currently reside in the activated portion of the GOP base. This is the Tea Party movement and, more broadly, the conservative outrage coalition that yearns to "take back" our country in a way that often has a distinctly antebellum view of states' rights.

Parties and politicians must cater to their base voters. But the urgency with which the GOP is doing it makes it look like a party with a perpetual primary-race mentality. The establishment, haunted by the specter of a Tea Party-driven urge to purge, seems to continually need to demonstrate its worthiness. But even primary candidates eventually have to tack back to the center to win general elections. The problem for Republicans is that Tea Party petulance and ideological certitude could keep the party on the fringe.

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