The Tea Party's moment of vindication

(T)here is not a single Democratic President since FDR whose administrations went smoothly ... This doesn’t bode well for an Obama administration. Not only that, but history usually dictates that a party’s upswing will not last for long – typically two election cycles before stagnation sets in or the course reverses itself.

Two years later, this warning seems to have become prophecy, as the Obama administration and the Democratic Party faces a radically-altered political landscape. Who is largely to blame for stopping the Democratic Brave New World in its tracks?

From where we see things, the prize goes to the much-maligned, but now vindicated, Tea Party movement.

In another prediction turned prophecy, we saw that one coming as well.

As we cautioned, if the Democrats didn't listen, trouble was coming. Well, folks, trouble is here.

Critics will point out that tea party supported Senate candidates set the GOP back in several Senate races. Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and Christine O'Donnell were nominated, in spite of polling which warned they were far weaker than other potential GOP nominees in states with sizable moderate voter blocs. The warnings presented by polling came home to roost, costing the GOP critical opportunities.

While those critics would have a point, it's important to note that, those races aside, tea party involvement and widespread sympathy for their views played key roles in many GOP victories this week. Without their grass-roots work to support candidates, it's hard to see how the GOP tidal wave would have taken place. Those three Senate races, when placed into a fuller and more informed context, didn't overshadow the basic message that this week's electoral landslide sent.

The bottom line is the tea party activists accomplished their objectives: Send a message to Washington, and change the political landscape. Enthused about this year's many successes, they're already working hard on their next challenge: topple Obama and take down more fiscally liberal elected officials (mostly Democrats) for defeat in two years' time.

Just as we cautioned that one couldn't assume 2008's outcomes would predict this year' political environment, it's important to point out that the Democratic upsets of 1994 were the prelude to Clinton's re-election two years later. In considering that, one can't automatically assume that Obama's downfall is a given. Just as this year's GOP wave required a bad 2009 for the Democrats, what happens next year will be critical in generating momentum towards the 2012 elections. If they want to continue to stay relative, the tea party activists will be challenged to adapt to the always-changing political environment.
We see a couple of challenges ahead for the tea party movement:
  • Better strategic thinking: In considering the three Senate losses, tea party activists could do a better job of vetting the candidates they want to support, as well as showing some flexibility in picking their battles. There's no victory in winning a primary, only to allow the likes of Harry Reid to go back to Washington because the nominee has liabilities and is therefore wide open for a desperate liberal opponent to go on the attack.
  • Plan for recovery: History shows economic downturns resolve themselves in two to three years' time. This downturn has hit bottom and it's likely that in two years the economy will finally be moving forward (we hope). Economic recovery had much to do with Clinton's come-from-behind re-election in 1996. Tea party activists need to consider how they can adapt their message of fiscal conservatism to remain relevant. As intial messages from President Obama administration suggest he seems intent on continuing his present political course, with more staggering deficit spending and debt likely, we think they'll still have plenty of opportunities, but if people aren't as apprehensive about their personal situations, tea party activists will have to come up with new ways to make their fiscal concerns relevant to voters.
The tea party movement is smart, motivated, and determined to continue to make a difference. We saw them coming before most others did, and believe their entry into the political arena is a good thing. So we're hoping they'll be smart enough to do what it takes to remain in the political ring to help keep both sides on their toes for many years to come.

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