Are Tea Partiers Compromising?

The grassroots support for Scott Brown may indicate a shift in the movement

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The Tea Party movement isn't really considered to be organized around political pragmatism or compromise. Arising after wide Republican defeat in the 2008 election, the conservative grassroots cause quickly demonstrated an all-or-nothing agenda demanding solidly conservative candidates in every race. In the much-discussed NY-23 Congressional race in New York's 23rd district only three months ago, tea party leaders viciously attacked the official GOP candidate as too moderate, thus handing victory to the Democratic candidate.

It is a major shift for the movement, then, to support moderate Republican Scott Brown in the special election for Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat. Yet their wide support has earned Brown massive donations from across the country and contributed to his tightening of what should have been a sure loss. After all, the race actually features a little-discussed conservative calling himself the Tea Party candidate, but he has received almost no support from the movement. Are Tea Party conservatives beginning to adopt the political compromises -- the ability to win over ideological purity -- they once loathed?

  • Strategic Thinking  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder suggests the Tea Partiers are not the "knuckle-dragging no-nothings with a penchant for ideological purity" they are often perceived to be. "But there are signs that the Tea Party movement, always more heterogeneous than it has been portrayed, is thinking strategically. [...] The [conventional wisdom] in DC is that the Tea Party movement will wind up hurting the GOP in the long-run by pulling its core further to the right. Maybe so. In the short term, though, this robotic monolith is showing signs of sentience. Democrats might want to notice..."
  • 'Pragmatism or Principle?'  Conservative blogger Rick Moran thinks Scott Brown represents "a new kind of Republican" palatable to hard-line Tea Partiers but also able to win in more-liberal Northeast states. "[A]n independent thinker with conservative principles who doesn’t allow ideology to dominate his thinking or his politics," Moran says Brown has become "the darling of the right" because conservatives don't just want to sit on the "backbenches" complaining about ideological purity.
  • Media Underestimates Tea Party  National Review's Mark Hemingway scoffs in the Washington Examiner, "let them continue to dismiss the Tea Party. They do so at their peril. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the Tea Party is both far more sophisticated than its opponents realize and an electoral force to be reckoned with." He writes, "It appears that Tea Partiers aren't just a bunch of reactionary simpletons devoted to supporting the most conservative candidate available -- it's lively and organic political movement that is thinking strategically about getting people elected."

  • Will We Regret It?  RedState chief Erick Erickson ponders his support of Brown. "Scott Brown is not a conservative. He makes no pretension of being a conservative," he writes. "We, well . . . I, suspect he’ll give conservatives heart burn as New England Republicans do. But all of us know he is a good, pragmatic fit for Massachusetts. He’ll vote against Obamacare and he’d vote against a second stimulus."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.