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Tea Party Puts Boehner on Notice: Shape Up or Ship Out

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Posted on May 18 2011 7:00 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Leftists still don’t get the Tea Party, and neither does the Republican party establishment. Reuters recently reported on a private meeting which took place between several Tea Party activists and House Speaker John Boehner. The mood was less than cordial.

One of the 25 or so [Tea Party] leaders, all from Boehner’s district, asked him if Republicans would raise America’s $14.3 trillion debt limit.

According to half a dozen attendees interviewed by Reuters, the most powerful Republican in Washington said “yes(…)”

That answer incensed many of the Tea Party activists, for whom raising the debt limit is anathema.

From the sidelines, the Left snickers and wags a finger.

Boehner, along with much of the GOP, is “stuck between the Tea Party and a hard place.” But, he only has himself to blame for bringing the activists into the fold and over-promising what he could deliver with control of a single chamber of Congress.

Surely, there are Tea Party activists with unreasonable expectations of what Republicans can accomplish with control of the House. However, the major beef Tea Partiers have with Republicans is not their lack of accomplishment. It’s their unwillingness to stand and fight, their apparent lack of principle, and the resulting impotence toward shifting the narrative in Washington.

The crux of the conflict between the Tea Party and Republicans is a choice between short-term pragmatism and entrenched political warfare. Too often, the questions Republicans ask themselves are. Will this work? Can this pass? Will we win?

The Left never asks these questions. They never concern themselves with whether a course is practical. They focus on controlling the narrative, framing the debate, then dominating the conversation. Doing so enables them to affect whether a future gambit, which may not work today, works tomorrow. They’re willing to double-down when the long-term benefit is worth the risk.

Just look at the lengths Democrats were willing to go to in order to shove Obamacare down our throats. They didn’t care how much it cost them in 2010. They only cared about affecting a fundamental transformation which would benefit their cause in the long-run.

That’s what the Tea Party demands of Republicans. Will the debt ceiling be raised? Almost certainly. The point is how. What will Republicans get in return? What will Democrats have to concede? How will the debate be framed? How will conservatives control the narrative? How will Boehner put the Left on the defensive, and strike a counter-blow that will sour their comparatively small victory?

Ron Musilli, 62, a native of Troy, recalls asking Boehner what leverage points the Republicans planned to focus on in debt limit talks with the White House and Senate Democrats.

“We haven’t figured that out yet,” he recalls Boehner replied.

That’s unacceptable. The fear is that Republicans haven’t concocted a strategy against the White House because they are more focused on “managing expectations” among conservatives. That leads the Tea Party to the conclusion that serious changes are due in 2012.

“The Tea Party will almost certainly primary those they want to get rid of,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “They are not out to rebuild the Republican Party. They are out to take over the Republican Party and make it more like the Tea Party.”

“If it takes some Republican defeats along the way to make that happen, then that is what they’ll do,” he added.

Believe it. There is a place for pragmatism in political calculations. But like a shield absent a sword, it can’t do much against a fully armed opponent. If Republicans are unwilling to fight, if they lack the courage of their espoused convictions, if they can’t stomach hardcore political warfare, they’ll be replaced by those who can.

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