Does the Tea Party Have a Future?

Written by David Frum on Thursday October 13, 2011

In my column for The Week, I discuss what the future of the Tea Party will be if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President:

The astounding result: After three years of battling against ObamaCare, the most likely winner of the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 is the author of the Massachusetts health care plan that inspired ObamaCare's basic mechanism.

It's as if the Democrats of the 1960s had responded to the anti-war protests by nominating Robert McNamara for president.

So what happens now? Does the Tea Party fall into line behind Mitt Romney? Does it support a protest against him, like the Ralph Nader protest candidacy that blighted Al Gore's hopes in 2000? Does it turn away from national organizing to focus its energy down-ballot, on the control of local parties? Or does it demobilize and fade out of politics altogether? After the crushing defeat of George McGovern in 1972, many on the radical Left gave up on politics, shifting their interests to spirituality, psychology, and sexuality. Could something similar happen on the Right?

You have to figure Option 1 — fall into line behind Romney — is the most likely.

Fox News will fall into line for sure. Cut off from the television network that is so important to conservative activism, how would a Tea Party mutiny organize itself? Besides, a mutiny requires leadership, and if the Tea Party had credible leadership to offer, it would not be in its present difficulty in the first place.

The second option — go down ballot — is the one pursued by conservative activists after the Goldwater debacle of 1964. It might seem a plausible plan today, except for the risk that it leaves conservatives controlling more and more of less and less. The Tea Party can take control of the Delaware GOP. That's a very different thing from winning an election in Delaware. As the Republican Party becomes more a Tea Party, it will spread the negative reaction to Tea Party Republicanism wider and wider — to governors' races, to mayors' races, to sheriffs' races.

Click here to read the full column.