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Four options for Tea Partiers in November

Two Tea Partiers hold a Gadsden flag at an event in Sacramento, Calif.
Two Tea Partiers hold a Gadsden flag at an event in Sacramento, Calif.

With the end of the 2014 primary election calendar fast approaching, the members of the Tea Party movement find themselves with relatively little to show for their efforts. Certainly, the ouster of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the second-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, by supporters of David Brat was a major victory. But elsewhere, Tea Partiers do not have much to celebrate. All Tea Party primary challengers to sitting Republican senators have failed, and only a few other House members were ousted. And while some primary challengers caused incumbents to win nomination with less than 50 percent of the vote and came within striking distance of victory, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Now that the general election is less than three months away, what is a Tea Partier to do? Let us examine each of the four credible options.

  1. Vote Republican. This is the option that many Tea Partiers will choose, simply because the Republican nominee, even if an establishment candidate, is most likely to be the best match for a Tea Partier's positions on issues. Another advantage is that party leaders like loyalty and are more likely to consider policy ideas from people who are viewed as consistent party supporters. The disadvantage of this approach is that it allows establishment Republicans to take Tea Party voters for granted, enduring their complaints without acting upon them as long as they can defeat whatever primary challengers the Tea Partiers decide to run.

  2. Vote Libertarian. For Tea Partiers who are less concerned with social issues and wish to make a visible protest, voting Libertarian is an attractive option. Libertarians tend to have many agreements with Republicans on economic issues, the primary concern of most Tea Partiers. Another advantage is that a large amount of Tea Party votes could give the Libertarian Party major-party status. This is important if the Tea Party would seek to split from the Republican Party, as the Republican and Democratic Parties have rigged election laws to favor themselves and disfavor third parties and independents, with a vote percent threshold being used in most states to delineate the difference between a major party and a minor party. The disadvantages of this approach are that Libertarian candidates have never won Congressional elections, and establishment Republicans are likely to treat Tea Partiers who vote Libertarian in an adversarial way, potentially closing the door to the possibility of making inroads into the Republican Party.

  3. Vote Democrat. At first glance, a Tea Partier may dismiss this option. “Vote for what I don't want? Why in the world would I do that?,” a Tea Partier might ask. But with a sufficiently cynical viewpoint, this could be a sound strategy. If one devotes a significant amount of time and effort to a Tea Party primary challenger and believes that time and effort to be wasted, one can come to believe that trying to change the system from within is pointless, and that the best path to smaller government and fiscal responsibility is to accelerate government toward a hard crash and reset. Voting for Democrats is usually the most efficient means toward such an end (although establishment Republicans are not much better historically). The other advantage is that while voting Libertarian will register as a protest vote, protest voting Democrat will hurt the Republican candidate twice as much (assuming that the Libertarian candidate is not doing well enough to have a chance of winning). The disadvantage of this approach, of course, is that it will mean more government growth in the short-term.

  4. Do not vote. From a philosophical libertarian perspective, this is the correct course of action because acting to impose one's choice of rulers upon other people, even those who choose not to participate in a vote and be bound by its results, violates the non-aggression principle and is therefore immoral. But from a Tea Party perspective, it is not so clear. A Tea Partier is likely to believe that voting is some sort of patriotic duty, the logical inconsistency with the individualism espoused by many Tea Partiers notwithstanding. However, abstaining from voting has the possibility of lowering voter turnout if enough people do it, which can threaten the perceived legitimacy of government if it gets too low. This can lead to reforms that would be desirable to Tea Partiers. The disadvantages of this approach are that a group of voters large enough to change the outcome of an election will not be affecting the outcome, and that this may result in candidates who are disliked by Tea Partiers winning elections.