According to a number of published news reports, the establishment Republicans in Washington have decided to launch an all-out assault on the Tea Party and those politicians who have dared take up their cause. Here in Virginia, we are now saddled with Terry McAuliffe as governor because the Republican ruling class refused to support the campaign of Ken Cuccinelli because of his Tea Party support. Incredibly, Republican elected officials in the state openly endorsed Terry McAuliffe with no apparent backlash from the state GOP. Conservatism, it seems, has finally become off-limits for Republicans.
Predictably, the response from conservatives and the Tea Party to this news has been one of anger and frustration. While many of us have known for some time that the GOP leadership was less than enthusiastic about their support for conservative issues, the open hostility towards conservatives has come as a shock to many who have always considered themselves to be loyal Republicans.
The intent of the war on conservatism is obvious; the GOP establishment sees conservatism as an unwinnable electoral strategy and therefore a threat to their hold on whatever power they might have. Sen. Mitch McConnell (Wimp-KY) certainly understands that the emergence of strong conservative leaders such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee signal the eventual end of his official leadership position. That hold on power of course, is much more important to him than the advancement of any political agenda. The establishment Republicans feel so threatened by the conservative uprising within the party that feel it is imperative to put conservatives in their place and make them tow the party line now before they get the upper hand.
The unintended consequences of this effort however, may not be so obvious to McConnell and Co. For years conservatives have felt like they were being tolerated rather than supported by the Republican Party leadership, leading many, including myself, to believe that anything more than a token advancement of the conservative agenda would require a third party. Although some efforts have been made to achieve that goal, little progress has been made. The political reality is that candidates for office know that they need the material, financial, and political support of a well-organized party structure to win elections. A serious, credible candidate simply could not waste his or her chance at winning an election by running as a third-party candidate.
The GOP's war on conservatives however, just might change that dynamic. When elected politicians such as Ted Cruz are ostracized by the party leadership, and quality candidates such as Ken Cuccinelli are denied support from the party, it becomes quite possible that they could very well decide that the benefits of an established party have disappeared, making the prospect of adopting a third party more appealing.
Ted Cruz for example, has already made a name for himself as a serious, credible member of the U.S. Senate, is very popular with his constituency, and has demonstrated capable leadership in his bid to defund Obamacare. Given the attitude of the GOP leadership in the Senate, it is unlikely that he will ever hold any positions of power within the party structure or that he will be given the better committee assignments within the Senate. His presidential aspirations would almost certainly be met with resistance from the party establishment. Almost certainly, he could now win re-election to his Senate seat as a third-party candidate. A run for President as a third party candidate might be a more difficult proposition, but would certainly not be out of the question.
The outcome of the Virginia governor's race would suggest that conservatives might finally be in a position to drop the GOP and establish a brand of their own. Although Cuccinelli lost his bid for Governor, he did so by a very narrow margin against a candidate who was very well funded and supported by the national Democrat Party, despite the fact that he had no such support from the national Republican Party. This can only be explained by the growing strength of the conservative message, and of the Tea Party.
The GOP would be much better served by mounting opposition to President Obama's agenda rather than the conservative agenda, but the choice is theirs. If however, they really want to pick a fight with conservatives, bring it on!