During the 2012 election cycle, Tea Partiers were told by their supposed betters that their ignorance of everyday politics meant that they should take a back seat to the Republican Party establishment. Brandishing the so-called Buckley Rule with quasi-religious fervor -- the notion that Republicans should run the most conservative candidate who can win -- the establishment GOP proclaimed that the only presidential candidate who could win was Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. They suggested that four-term former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson was a shoe-in for the Senate. They explained that the Tea Party was responsible for failed Senate candidates like Todd Akin (false) and Richard Mourdock (true).
They knew best.
The only trouble was, they didn't.
As it turns out, the Buckley Rule relies on prophecy. No good political strategy relies on Carnac-style crystal ball reading; a better rule would have been to nominate conservatives who are articulate (Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz), regardless of whether the wise men who loved John McCain and Mitt Romney think conservative positions make candidates unelectable.
But despite their 2012 losses, the establishment has decided that the problem in 2012 wasn't their own incompetence -- it was the dastardly Tea Party, which in its zealotry for conservatism, has ignored the need for victory.
And so the Karl Rove establishment leaked to the far-left New York Times that the "biggest donors in the Republican Party" were working with the leaders of Rove's American Crossroads super PAC to "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's effort to win control of the Senate."
Why didn't Rove and company tell the Times that they were interested in training conservative candidates in media fluency? Why didn't they approach the Tea Party instead, and offer their get-out-the-vote services and electoral strategies?
Because, at root, there is a clash at the heart of today's Republican Party. The Tea Party wants to change tactics. The establishment wants to discard principle.
The question is whether this will be the party of Ronald Reagan or the party of George W. Bush. The establishment opposed Ronald Reagan in 1980; they backed George H.W. Bush, convinced that Reagan was too extreme, not quick enough on his feet, no match for the more intellectual Jimmy Carter. Thank God they lost.
Today, though, the establishment is ascendant. While George W. Bush did a great many good things, including slashing taxes and protecting Americans in the aftermath of 9/11, the second term of George W. Bush looked like a replay of Herbert Hoover's government-growing presidency, replete with concessions on spending and socialistic stimulus programs. The "compassionate conservatism," which largely identified government spending with compassion, dovetailed into the rise of Barack Obama.
This divide doesn't have to continue. The establishment GOP could seek to rectify the breach with the Tea Party by embracing their enthusiasm for basic conservative principle and offering their expertise -- whatever expertise they have -- in helping them achieve victory. Instead, they're focusing on the next dollar and the next dinner party.
Picture coutesy of John Eisenschenk/Flickr