As tea party activists look toward 2014, a national tea party agenda begins to take shape.
The tea party movement began in 2009 as a backlash against the big-government, statist agenda of the Obama Administration and drew support from grassroots conservatives, libertarians and folks who had never participated in politics. It was obvious from the beginnings of the movement in early 2009 that beyond the unified opposition to cap-and-trade, high taxes, over-reaching federal regulations and Obamacare, the tea party movement represented an opportunity to restore the U.S. Constitution in the vision of our Founding Fathers. Tea party principles and policy objectives will continue to frame many public debates in 2014, as they have for the past five years.
In the 2010 elections, hundreds of new conservative legislators were elected to Congress and state legislatures, and Republicans re-captured the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the 87 new House members who took their seats in January 2011, nearly all of them were conservatives, many of whom were elected with tea party support. They have provided a core of conservative votes in the House and have forced the House leadership to behave in a more fiscally-conservative manner and confront the Obama Administration. Without them, we would be worse off today.
To tea party activists, who are now closely watching the actions of government officials at all levels, it’s obvious that many public officials don’t mean what they say when they swear to uphold the Constitution. In short, many are hypocrites. And the citizens who comprise the tea party movement have little patience for this sort of "business as usual." They will continue to support principled mavericks such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). These gentlemen have stood and fought on the Senate floor against Obamacare and intrusive government, and they are now champions of liberty and limited government to millions of grassroots activists.
The tea party movement will shape the 2014 elections here in Georgia and in other key Senate races around the nation. While it appears Republicans will hold the House in the November 2014 elections, the question for tea party voters will be whether more conservative constitutionalists can win in Republican-leaning House districts. But the balance-of-power struggle for the Senate is on even more people’s minds.
The Republicans hold 45 seats in the Senate and need a net gain of six seats to gain control. The GOP cannot afford to lose any seats it currently holds, and thankfully, the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss here in Georgia is not likely to be won by a Democrat. West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota, where Democrats are retiring are the most likely pickups for Republicans. Iowa, a competitive state with an open seat also presents an opportunity for the GOP, but the math gets trickier after that. If Republicans are able to win these first four seats, they still need two more to gain control of the Senate.
Arkansas and Louisiana are Republican-leaning states where a GOP challenger would have to beat a Democratic incumbent, but both David Pryor (D-AR) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) support Obamacare and are vulnerable. Michigan has an open Senate seat as well and has a Republican governor, but it has been a Democratic-leaning state for years. Alaska presents an opportunity, as Democrat Mark Begich will have to defend his seat in a very Republican state. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is also vulnerable, as North Carolina is a state in the Deep South with a Republican governor and legislature. Republicans MUST win at least two seats from these five states to control the Senate, or win in against an incumbent Democrat in another state who is less likely to lose. As the year progresses, Senate contests in other states, such as Colorado, may come into play; but for now, these are the most likely states to contest.
A big part of the 2014 agenda for tea party activists is winning the Senate. That opens up the possibility of a full repeal of Obamacare and the chance to begin to reverse a number of Obama policies.
On the policy front, tea parties will need to keep the pressure on to repeal Obamacare, hold the line on taxes and spending and block harmful regulations that stifle businesses and investments. For now, tea party activists and grassroots conservatives—and their allies in Congress—will continue to play defense. Until a Senate majority is elected, very little legislative progress will be possible. The votes just are not there. And even if Republicans win the Senate, President Obama still has the White House and a veto pen until 2017. Until a Republican president is elected again, and conservative majorities are in place in the House and the Senate, the chance for real progress and the restoration of our Constitution is very unlikely.
Another part of the tea party strategy must be patience and the view that while we may lose some battles, we will win the war. Restoring our Constitution will not happen overnight. This is going to take some time.