As we finally head into the last 14 days of the election campaign Sarah Palin helped launch the final Tea Party Express cross country tour to help candidates as the election comes to a close. The New York Times says there are 129 Tea Party candidates running for the House and 9 running for the Senate. Of these, 33 House seats and 9 Senate seats have competitive Tea Party candidates, although less liberal groups believe far more seats may be in play. Beyond that there are a number of Tea Party candidates in the governor races, state legislatures, and even local offices.
Be that as it may, Palin and the Tea Party have written a new chapter in American political history with the first formidable launch of a movement that has a chance to evolve into a bona fide political third party. There has simply been nothing like it the past century in America.
It is true Ross Perot, who should be considered the Godfather of the Tea Party movement, did capture 19% of the vote in 1992 as a third party candidate but his efforts to form a defined political party did not succeed. Perot did, however, cost George Bush, Sr. his re-election as president. He also planted the seeds of discontent and provided a roadmap for future attempts to challenge the two party stranglehold on the American political process.
So far the Tea Party has organized as a series of independent groups, sort of a loose confederation, and has mastered much of the art of politics as seen by some stunning primary upsets. Within just a year they have demonstrated they are fearless, have weathered withering attacks by the left leaning media, the president and vice president, the congressional leadership, and the party spokespeople, while developing an ability to raise substantial money for campaigns.
In short, Sarah Palin and others give a face and a voice to the millions of disgruntled, disappointed, disgusted and determined citizens who have had enough government, deficit spending, increasing national debt and political double talk. Come November 3 we may find out just how much of an impact the silent voices of frustrated Americans might have earned.
It is clear in this election cycle the Republicans will be the primary beneficiary of the Tea Party movement because the GOP is the opposition to Obama and his left leaning agenda. But it is not clear that the Republicans can count on the long term support of the Tea Party, like into the 2012 elections. First and foremost, remember, they are Independents.
To the true Tea Party members neither political party offers much hope as they are equally responsible for being part of the old political establishment in our capitol. If the Tea Party stays with the Republicans it will only be because the GOP has changed for the better and is going to start practicing what they preach.
If they don't, look for the rise of a real third party challenge to our two party system.
There is one potential danger to the Tea Party solidarity should they decide to organize a challenge to the two party system. The only way the Tea Party could function as a national party is if they keep their platform and agenda focused on the priorities of limiting the size of government, eliminating pork barrel and deficit spending, and reducing the national debt.
Once you stray beyond the issues of economics or governmental powers, where the Tea Party members are united, and you get to the far more explosive social issues like abortion, prolife, gay rights, and many others, you begin to see the problem.
Many in the Tea Party want to adopt an expanded list of principles including social hot buttons, and then be uncompromising when pursuing them in congress and the White House. There are Tea Party members who are on both sides of most social issues. The passion for some of the causes is such they could never agree on a position. That is the long term dilemma facing Palin and the Tea Party.
They must find a way to unite as "outsiders" to fight the system while maintaining their own individual loyalty to certain causes not all will accept. If the GOP cannot find a way to accommodate these new advocates of the people, they will find another vehicle to mobilize around in the next election cycle, when Obama, the real threat to the Tea Party movement, is up for re-election.