By Jack Minor
“Mainstream” Republicans are lining up alongside Democrats on many issues in Washington and the nation’s statehouses these days, but one gadfly who has proven time and again he’s willing to buck the establishment has a message for Americans: There’s great hope for tea-party supporters.
WND columnist Tom Tancredo, who represented a suburban Denver district for five terms in Congress and later mounted a strong third-party challenge for Colorado’s governorship, argues that tea partiers have a duty to try to capture control of the party.
He said some of the tea party’s arguments were advanced in the 1980s as part of the Reagan Revolution, and there are some positive results already that offer encouragement. Among them, he said, are the primary defeat of established Republican powerhouse Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana the Deb Fischer’s victory in the Nebraska U.S. Senate primary.
“This sends a very loud signal to the Republican establishment that they need to actively recruit conservative candidates and not back away from conservative values during the general election,” Tancredo said. “We need to send a lesson to the Republican establishment that no seat is considered sacred just because of a person’s party affiliation.”
Lugar had served four terms in the Senate, but Indian voters chose tea-party candidate Richard Mourdock.
Similar circumstances developed in Nebraska, where Fischer won the Republican Senate primary after an endorsement from Sarah Palin.
Tea-party members should learn their victories, Tancredo warned, pointing out that Mourdock was regarded as a “credible candidate.”
“He had been in office for some time, had a record was smart and competent,” Tancredo said. “We need to get credible candidates to run against these establishment candidates. That was the problem we had with Dan Maes in the last Colorado gubernatorial election: He was not a credible candidate.”
He added, “I consider myself to be a tea-party person. I want to see all kinds of changes in the Republican Party, but we need to run competent people who are on our side. It is much more productive in terms of time and effort.”
Following the tea party’s major role in returning the GOP to a majority in the House in 2010, disagreements among different branches of the grassroots movement became evident.
The strife mounted between those who wanted to take the party back to its conservative roots and those who emphasized party affiliation over individual position statements.
Ana Puig, FreedomWorks’ field coordinator in Pennsylvania, noted that not all the party elites will yield control over the party without a fight.
“Some leaders in the Republican Party have embraced this enthusiasm by tea-party members,” she explained. “Others leaders have been openly hostile because it threatens the traditional mode of operation where a small group of well-connected political insiders at the top of the hierarchy make the decisions for the party.”
Tancredo said he understands the frustration of tea-party groups, but he says the battle isn’t new.
“In the 1980s we were trying to take over the party, but we were doing so as Republicans,” he said.
He noted one thing that is different this time around: Party leaders are unsure of how to react to tea-party voters, with some leaders questioning whether they’re Republicans at all.
“Today’s leaders in the Republican Party look on tea-party people as an unpleasant meddlesome nuisance,” Tancredo said. “During the ’80s, the struggles were internecine battles, whereas today the tea party is viewed by the Republican Party as an alien group who are not really Republicans as much as they are tea-party people.”
Puig added: “The Republican Party in Pennsylvania wants us to be their boots on the ground. However, when we expressed concerns over what was happening in the party, we were told we did not have a voice.”
Tancredo said, despite the seemingly slow pace of victory, the struggles will be worth it in the end, because the tea party can succeed if members continue their fight.
“You have a duty to try to take over the Republican Party,” he said, “and I would love to see the tea party become a majority within the Republican Party.”
During the Republican presidential primaries, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was widely seen as the establishment candidate, with party leaders even calling on the other candidates to step down early in the primary season to permit him to obtain the nomination without a fight.
Now Romney has commitments from enough delegates technically to take the nomination, leaving tea-party supporters wondering whether it would be best to pick a third-party candidate or just decline to vote at all.
Tancredo warns that choosing either option would be disaster for the country because of the ramifications if Obama were to obtain a second term.
“If there were not such severe repercussions, maybe I could understand it,” he said. “However, we must do everything we can to defeat this president this November. I believe Obama is as close to a political anti-Christ as anyone I have ever seen in my life.”
In 2008, Sen John McCain was regarded as a moderate candidate. Tea-party members have said while they reluctantly voted for McCain for the same reasons, they might not do the same in 2012.
Tancredo acknowledges many tea-partiers don’t regard Romney as a conservative. However, he said there is a key difference with Romney that provides an opportunity for conservatives that they didn’t have with McCain.
“Having known Romney for many years, I can say he is a very nice man who has excellent family values and very smart business sense,” Tancredo said. “The end of the story. You cannot describe them as liberal or conservative. He is neither, and he does not have a philosophical underpinning of any kind that I can tell.”
Tancredo urged tea partiers to stay in the party and fight for its direction.
“We need to let the liberal Republicans be the ones to leave and form a third party.”