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by Tim Baldwin

Well-funded and nationally-recognized TEA Party political action committee, Tea Party Express, endorsed Congressman Steve Daines (MT-R) for U.S Senate of Montana. Tea Party Express stated in part,

Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee, is proudly announcing its endorsement of Congressman Steve Daines for the U.S. Senate. This is the organization’s second endorsement of the 2014 cycle.

This endorsement displays a significant fact about the TEA Party movement. Namely, the TEA Party is composed of opposing forces, which are incompatible for a unified political movement, and a split between them is inevitable.

Despite how some TEA Partiers describe Daines as not “TEA Party enough,” Tea Party Express notably endorsed him months before the primary election. The Tea Party Express evidently sees no value in waiting for “better” candidates to file or supporting the other Republican candidates who are viewed by some TEA Partiers as better than Daines.

This endorsement reveals that in spite of Daines’ perceived flaws and of “better candidates” being available for endorsement, principles of tactics show (among other things) that:

1) Daines beating the Democrat in the general election is the best choice given the circumstances;

2) The TEA Party needs victories to gain political momentum; and

3) Preventing the “greater evil” is more important in practice than endorsing a “better candidate” whose chances of winning are slimmer than the “lesser evil” candidate.

When Tea Party Express endorsed Daines, the lash from some TEA Partiers was instant and harsh. They denounced the endorsement as a betrayal of the TEA Party. These denouncers presume to speak for the TEA Party movement: herein rests the seeds of TEA Party disunion.

Seeing that one of the largest TEA Party organizations, Tea Party Patriots, describes the TEA Party as “[supporting] fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free market economic policies,” there is little wonder why TEA Party politics range from atheistic anarchy to Christian theocracy and everything in between. It has no leadership, platform or corporate structure. This is a fundamental flaw for a movement whose supposed purpose is to make large, lasting, positive (and some would demand, immediate) changes in the most powerful nation in the world.

The TEA Party movement is very young, so time has not revealed much about it. Still, experience already proves that there are two kinds of TEA Partiers.

  1. There are TEA Party purists—those who refuse to bend for anything (so they say) and adamantly promote voting for supposed “better” candidates who have no chance of winning despite its helping the “greater evil” candidate get elected, as Ron Paul noted.
  2. Then there are TEA Party pragmatists—those who see the value of making positive steps even though the steps may be small and using the Republican Party to accomplish this, as Ron Paul noted.

In short, the purists see no place for sound tactics, but pragmatists do.

Though some media has given the TEA Party attribution in 2013, these assessments (to this author’s knowledge) have not addressed the purist-pragmatist distinction and considered the logical results of their polemical tactics. This is a serious oversight.

If TEA Party pragmatists continue, the purists’ influence in the TEA Party will increasingly fade because they will hinder the pragmatists from accomplishing positive results, as in the Daines example. Naturally, pragmatists will have more influence in politics because they focus on results as well as principles. Purists, by contrast, do not care what results; they simply declare their principles—to hell with anyone who disagrees. Just as establishment Republicans now resist TEA Partiers, so too pragmatists will eventually and openly resist purists.

There is the possibility that the TEA Party could morph into a third party movement. In this case, purists will likely bombard every aspect of that Party and few pragmatists will join or stay in that Party because of purists’ dogmatism. On that score, purists influence will not exist because they refuse to incorporate sound practice in politics.

But TEA Partiers does not show significant signs of wanting a third party: the time, energy and money it takes to create a viable Party may be too prohibitive. Even TEA Party leaders like Ron and Rand Paul denounce using a third party and admit that third parties cause the “greater evil” to get elected. It is much easier to use an existing Party—thus the conflict between establishment and TEA Party.

This means that the TEA Party is forced to use the Republican Party (a “lesser evil,” one might say) to execute whatever goals TEA Party leaders have at the time. Playing within the realities of the existing Republican Party requires purists to become more pragmatic if they want more power in the Party. This will prove truer if the TEA Party were to get in a position of power, because holding power requires more pragmatics than riding a wave of getting into power.

The TEA Party may not be going away anytime soon, but time will reveal how its substance and form will change to meet political demands and realities. Perhaps an early sign of its future is Steve Daines’ candidacy. With pragmatists endorsing Daines and purists opposing Daines, purists may find themselves with political enemies on virtually every point of the spectrum. Trimming off purists from the TEA Party, however, may not harm the movement; it may help it so TEA Partiers are free to focus on results—the essence of the rule of science, which politics is.


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