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Op Eds

The Established Republican Minority

By Luis A. Martinez

The fast rise of the Tea Party as a national political force has had a surprising impact on the 2010 Republican primaries. At times, it has even proven to be impressive in its ability to effectively fund-raise and elevate relative unknowns into the political limelight. Names like those of Republican senatorial candidates Joe Miller of Alaska, Sharon Angle of Nevada, and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware have become the focus of many a dinner table discussion in recent weeks. However, the Tea Party effort, with its initial focus on saving the country from economic ruin, has become hijacked by a desire for purity tests and fiery rhetoric that will ultimately prove counterproductive to the sort of tangible results that the American people are hoping for in a time of dire economic need.

Think of why President Obama currently has his lowest approval rating on record. Simply put, it’s because he, along with large liberal majorities in Congress, has been unable to successfully address the economic crisis with the speed and urgency that the American people deserve. Asked in a recent poll to rank the three most pressing issues today, Americans overwhelming stated that the economy, jobs, and federal spending are the three that will shape how they will vote in November. The inability of Democrats to act swiftly and aggressively to fix the economic mess has left the American people again looking to the Republican Party for financial sense and fiscal responsibility. Poll after poll suggests that this is the year for Republicans to emerge from the political death that had been presumed after the 2008 elections.

However, there is one small caveat: Republicans can only win if they focus on the issues that matter. This is where the Tea Party has become a complicated ally. By focusing on purity tests within the ranks of the Republican Party, candidates for office have emerged that have some questioning the possibility of a cohesive Republican effort come January 2011. Luckily for Republicans, the Tea Party movement has chosen to align itself with the GOP, which will allow it to carry forth additional momentum into the fall in states where Republican victories are all but certain, like in Utah and Kentucky. However, the selections of O’Donnell in Delaware and, to a lesser extent, Angle in Nevada place serious doubts on a roadmap to congressional majorities come Nov. 2. O’Donnell is not expected to win the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden, unlike the defeated Congressman Mike Castle, who would have been the closest thing to a sure thing in American politics. And Angle has placed hurdles on the path to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Recent decisions by Governor Charlie Crist in Florida and Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska to run as third-party candidates further jeopardize Tea Party-backed candidacies.

And even if a moderate GOP and conservative Tea Party partnership proves successful in gaining congressional seats, there will still be plenty of bad blood between the establishment, which suddenly finds itself on the defensive against a very loud grassroots, conservative unit.  There is very little expectation that the two groups will agree often on policy proposals, particularly on social issues, continuing what has often been dubbed as civil war within the Republican Party. This in turn can spell trouble for Republican efforts to present a united opposition to the Obama administration’s domestic policies.

With an emphasis on issues ranging from immigration and abortion, to gay marriage, the Tea Party often reminds the establishment of where not to go in an effort to have the best possible outcome in these midterm races. These issues are often divisive and unhelpful when trying to win over crucial independent votes. There is a great opportunity for Republicans to win big this cycle and the only way to do so is to push an economic plan that reigns in spending and helps small businesses start up again. This is what the American people care about in 2010. This doesn’t mean a sacrifice of morals, but a focus on the issues that really are affecting millions of jobless Americans and many more cash-strapped families. Emphasis on other issues is for the most part a distraction that Democrats will readily grab on to and use to paint conservatives as out of touch with mainstream America.

Now that the primaries are done, the GOP needs to regain focus, get the Tea Party candidates onboard under a united economic front, or leave them to fend for themselves in their respective races. A Republican majority is no good when a good part of that majority is comprised of those that are splintering their party and hurting their own cause. The establishment is still the establishment. It needs to stop acting like the minority within the party, take charge, ignore the crazy personalities and the social agendas, and offer the message and plan that will solve America’s most pressing problem: the economy.

Luis A. Martinez ’12 is a history concentrator in Leverett House.

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