As the 2006 midterms approached, Republican leaders reassured their adherents that there was nothing to worry about. The reason put forward was as follows: Most races are decided based on local issues and, generally speaking, no matter how unpopular Congress may be as a hole, people like their own congressman or congresswoman.
Newt Gingrich and other more experienced leaders openly derided this message. At a time of pressing national issues local concerns and hometown favorites would fall by the wayside. With the exception of a few bloggers, the GOP chose to ignore the national issues and they went on to lose both houses of Congress.
This year health care and the economy are two pressing issues. Poll after poll shows that a consistent majority of Americans disapprove of the recently passed healthcare bill. They see it as both bad medicine and an economic negative during already turbulent economic times. Congressional approval rating is at its lowest recorded point ever and dissatisfaction with incumbents is rising steadily. All this makes for a national election yet again.
The two parties increasingly represent two very different visions for America. That is the reason behind the emergence of the tea party rallies. Tea party attendees are by and large people who until a year or so ago have never been involved in politics to any great extent. They are now and their numbers are growing.
Whether the tea parties will form a third party is dependent on whether the GOP establishment can cooperate with them and whether a give and take will ensue. This is not dissimilar to the merging of the anti-war activists with the Democratic Party in the late 1960s, a merger that decidedly changed nature of the party. The tea party movements are far more inline with traditional Republican ideas than the activists in the 1960s were with the Democratic establishment, so if I had to guess I’d imagine that a successful merger of sorts will take place.
Sincere belief and passion are great motivating factors for political parties across the board. As the differences between the two parties have become stark as well as passionate, I’d expect the nationalization of local races to remain the norm.