John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Tea Party’s Future

Posted on October 5, 2010
(Originally published on

The Republican Party was born in 1854 from the ashes of the Whig Party, which disintegrated over the issue of slavery.

Over the course of its more than 150 years in existence, the Grand Old Party has seen its fair share of insurrections and civil wars.

In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt, unhappy with his successor’s insufficient commitment to reform, bolted the party and ran against Mr. Taft on the Bull Moose ticket. Bob LaFollette, the Wisconsin progressive, rebelled against the autocratic rule of Speaker Joe Cannon, but couldn’t stop Calvin Coolidge from winning the White House in the 1920’s. Tom Dewey battled it out with Mr. Republican, the conservative Robert Taft, in the 1940’s, Eisenhower Republicans had nothing but disdain for the McCarthy brigades in 50’s, Goldwater’s conservatives targeted the Rockefeller Republicans in 60’s, and Ross Perot split conservatives when he ran against George Bush in the 1980’s.

And now the GOP is confronted with the energy and anger of the Tea Party in 2010. The Tea Party was born by a comment made by CNBC Rick Santelli, who complained loudly on air about the efforts of the Obama Administration to bail out bad actors who wouldn’t pay their mortgages. From that comment spread an inspired movement of citizens who were sick and tired of being taxed to pay for bigger and more wasteful government.

Unlike the third party movements led Roosevelt or Perot, this Tea Party movement lacks an inspirational or charismatic leader. It has truly been a grassroots effort that has sprung up in different places around the country. And while much of its energy comes from opposing President Obama, much its vitriol is aimed at the so-called Republican establishment.

What happens to the Tea Party after the November elections? Here are four possible scenarios:

Takeover: Like the Goldwater troops in 1964, the Tea Party could attempt a hostile takeover of the party. Of course, such a takeover would take some time. It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan gained the White House in 1980 that Goldwater conservatives could claim total victory over the Rockefeller Republicans. After all, Rockefeller did serve as Gerald Ford’s Vice President after he was sworn in as President in 1974. But eventually, the Reagan/Goldwater conservatives took over the party apparatus from the hated moderates.

Take Off: The Tea Party could form a third party if they are insufficiently satisfied with the Republican Leaders in the next Congress. Mounting a successful (or impactful) third party effort requires a charismatic leader, like a Teddy Roosevelt, a Ross Perot or a George Wallace, someone who can really excite a passionate following outside the party structure. To my mind, Sarah Palin is the only politician out there who could inspire that kind of third party challenge.

Take Out: The Tea Party could so completely assault the Republican Party structure that it could lead to the destruction of the party entirely, ala the Whig Party of the 19th century. It could be that the Tea Party faithful so completely distrust the elites who largely fund and direct the party that it becomes a political movement that feeds upon itself and then largely disappears.

Take it Down a Notch: Of course, Tea Party adherents can begin to understand the true nature of politics and take their vitriol down a notch. It’s a big country, with many different interests, prejudices, concerns and beliefs. Getting everybody to agree is not going to be easy, and in many ways, not worth the effort. The quicker the Tea Party understand that many in the hated party “establishment” agree with them on the fundamental principles of what makes this country great, but having varying levels of disagreement on legislative tactics, the quicker the Republican/Tea Party can form a powerful coalition that can reform government and put the country back on the right track.

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