Question: Some exit polls during the 2010 election found Indiana voters identifying with the Tea Party at rates higher than in nearly any other state. What role will the Tea Party play in next year’s elections in Indiana?
Answer: The phenomenon called the Tea Party is probably the most misreported cultural and political movement in the last 100 years of American public discourse. I was privileged to speak at what I think was the first event in Indiana, convened at the Statehouse on Tax Day, 2009, and it featured a collection of folks who looked remarkably like the clientele I served in private law practice for the previous 38 years. Standing in front of close to 3,000 wet, cold folks that April 15, the image was remarkable.
Since then, I have spoken at three or four more events around the state and taken on-air calls from hundreds of folks who identify themselves with that “taxed enough already” genre of political kinship.
The premise of the question is that Indiana showed among the strongest Tea Party affiliations in the country in the 2010 elections. And of course even a quick examination of Indiana results demonstrates that such voters tack hard toward the conservative.
But to get a handle on their likely impact next year, we need to spend just a moment looking at the tenets of their common allegiances. And when we see them alliterated, much is quickly learned not only about the substance of their views but also their source. Both explain the Tea Party and both help show why they are so certain to be a huge force in the 2012 elections.
The postulates that describe the Tea Party are few, and in understanding them it is easy to see why they are so popular. Low taxes, smaller government, sovereign borders and a strong national defense—hmm … not exactly rocket science and hardly novel or radical, just basic constitutional-era precepts.
So look for a moment at their application to Hoosier issues and phenomena. A quick glance at the huge popularity of Gov. Daniels (he won by almost 20 points) across party lines tells us this is a voting population that is especially focused on fiscally conservative, tax-conscious governance. So, run on a platform that touts the virtues of smaller, cheaper and more-efficient government, and Hoosiers will support you.
But for candidates perceived to be soft or compromising with regard to those tenets—even in the primaries—the specter of defeat looms like it did for numerous Democrats in the statewide elections last year.
OK, so what about the role of this Tea Party thing next year? There are a couple of generalizations that have been borne out in the elections since its advent.
First, there is a strong correlation between Republican success at the polls and the strength of the Tea Party; these folk have begun to assert ever-more influence over candidate selection, whatever the method, whether primary, caucus or convention. That means more conservative choices resulting, and Republicans who fit that description win in significant numbers.
The second generalization is that moderate to liberal Republicans as well as most Democrats face a proactive Tea Party organization. One of the hallmarks of the Tea Party’s rise to prominence has been the capability of those who put it together to get organized and to get out the vote in the very first election cycle following their advent.
The organization’s impact will be significant, if not determinative, at least in statewide races. Those will see the presence of more conservative candidates—maybe in both parties to some extent—and even at the primary-level challengers who claim and demonstrate kinship with the tenets mentioned above will succeed with great frequency, even in close races.
The only caveat to all this is the political positions of the candidates. Those who move away from those foundational positions can count on losing Tea Party support, without which those close races look very different.•
Garrison is a partner in Garrison Law Firm LLC in Indianapolis and a talk show host on WIBC-FM 93.1. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.