Washington pundits on both sides of the ideological spectrum are suggesting that the lack of a bona fide Tea Party presidential candidate in the 2012 election cycle means the power of the Tea Party movement is on the wane. Talk show host Laura Ingraham made the argument recently in an appearance on ABC.
Ms. Ingraham needs to get out of Washington more.
That none of the four remaining Republicans in the race to win the party’s Presidential nomination currently align more closely with the three core values of the Tea Party movement (constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets) is an indication of one key truth: it takes longer than one Presidential campaign cycle to develop a candidate with the complete set of attributes necessary to compete at the Presidential level.
As a point of comparison, take a look at the 63 Republican freshmen members of the House of Representatives elected in 2010 who have been referred to as “The Tea Party class.” A careful look at their voting records in the 112th Congress indicates that they haven’t voted much differently than their Republican colleagues who were elected before 2010. In truth, only a handful of these 63 are not “establishment Republicans.”
Fast forward to the race for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012.
As I’ve argued before, the two candidates most aligned with Tea Party values — Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain — performed poorly over the course of the campaign, despite temporarily boomlets that gave them each “front runner” status. Why did they fail? Simply put, neither candidate possessed the full set of attributes necessary to compete at the Presidential level.
But look for things to be different in 2016 and beyond.
The Tea Party has a pretty strong bench. At the top of that list are two Senators elected in 2010 who align very closely with Tea Party values: Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
What Ms. Ingraham has missed is this simple fact: At the grassroots level, the Tea Party continues to grow in strength. We’re building a get-out-the-vote infrastructure that will elect candidates at all levels of office in 2012 who are closest to our core values. And in each successive year, as Tea Party candidates move up the development curve and are ready to serve at higher levels, look for the movement to have even greater electoral success.
Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, co-founder of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and co-organizer of Election Day Tea Party 2012. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .