A culture war truce?
A few weeks ago, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a possible dark-horse candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential race, urged Republicans and conservatives to make a truce on social issues and focus instead on economics. Daniels is, essentially, a libertarian in Republican clothing, so this wasn’t a particularly surprising plea. Nonetheless, he was met with much scorn and skepticism from social conservatives in the Republican Party, including ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Now leaders in the Tea Party movement are following in Daniels’ footsteps, urging GOP leaders to set aside divisive culture warfare and embrace the economic issues that presumably unite conservatives across the board. In a letter signed by groups as wide-ranging as GOProud – a gay Republican caucus – and The Tea Party Patriots and New American Patriots, the signatories write:
This election was not a mandate for the Republican Party, nor was it a mandate to act on any social issue, nor should it be interpreted as a political blank check.
Already, there are Washington insiders and special interest groups that hope to co-opt the Tea Party’s message and use it to push their own agenda – particularly as it relates to social issues. We are disappointed but not surprised by this development. We recognize the importance of values but believe strongly that those values should be taught by families and our houses of worship and not legislated from Washington, D.C.
We urge you to stay focused on the issues that got you and your colleagues elected and to resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests.
The Tea Party movement is not going away and we intend to continue to hold Washington accountable.
This co-opting of the Tea Party movement was exactly what led me to write that the culture wars were here to stay, in spite of what appeared to be a strict adherence to economics-only by many Tea Partiers. (Parts One, Two, and Three of that series.) I’m glad to see the leaders of the movement push back.
Now the question becomes: What will happen to the Tea Party now that Republicans have taken back the House? And what if someone other than a culture-war pacifist like Mitch Daniels takes the White House in 2012? Is there any hope for a truly conservative economic agenda in Washington or will fiscal conservatism fall on the same sword it fell on during the Bush years, with conservatives focusing more and more on divisive culture war issues rather than on the economic issues that pushed them to victory in the first place?
Perhaps this is the real test of the legitimacy of the Tea Party movement – whether it can survive its own success. As with all things Tea Party, it’s simply too hard to say at this point. The Tea Party may continue its unpredictable course, or it may become just another irrelevant faction within the conservative movement, relegated to the angry wings of the disenfranchised and betrayed. In some ways, this might not be such a bad thing. Dominant movements have a way of atrophying from within, losing everything that made them good and honest in the first place.