In the current state of American politics, the only action worth getting the popcorn for is happening inside the Republican party as Tea Partiers create havoc like crying children at a fancy restaurant. Mississippi’s Chris McDaniel, a tea party candidate who lost to mainstream Republican Thad Cochran, has yet to concede the election due to “irregularities” in the votes and has created rumblings of a split with the GOP. The third party option has been bandied about before, but American politics is such that getting a foothold in the strictly two-party system is near impossible. Observers have long held the well-founded belief that it simply is not possible to do, yet the extreme right wing is threatening to do just that. Maybe they are ready to handle some real tea for their tea party.
For a long time now, this particular conservative movement has been a name in politics, but it had an inauspicious start. Five years ago, a reporter mentioned he might “tea party” the Obama administration and protests began with people dumping tea into local waters as a statement. Just what that statement was, no one cared. The media did not spare much thought for the angry group of historically minded nobodies. In July of 2010, an official caucus was formed by Michelle Bachman and about thirty Republicans joined her. That was more important news than Earl Grey in the lake and, more importantly, it was thirty less Republicans who were playing nice with the GOP leadership. Still, no one expected the movement to become what it is today. It even rates its own Encyclopedia Brittanica article, speaking to how far its come from a blip on the radar to an important political faction. Flying largely under the radar, the extreme conservative movement has managed to become powerful, disrupting normal party procedures, and creating a new form of theatrics for political junkies to obsess over.
Is becoming a third party the future of the Tea Party? There are still people who say it is not possible, but perhaps they should not be so quick to dismiss the idea. No one thought the tiny conservative movement would become the raucous force it is today either. The extreme right-wing movement actually might have the perfect position to launch its own official political brand. By operating within the Republican party, it has grown from a small movement to a size that is not negligible in political calculations. There are now quite a few Tea Partiers who have won elections, notably David Brat who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a stunning turn of events. Elections like these are also proving that Tea Party voters are alive and making themselves felt. That voting base could be exactly what the movement needs to make itself a full-fledged party that is not just playing at a tea party but is serving up real tea.
The idea of a true third party in what has for decades been a two horse race boggles the mind of many, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. In the last five years, the tea party movement has proven that nothing is impossible in American politics. But what is possible is not always what is best. The question that conservative observers speculating about the future of the Republican party and the extreme right-wing movement should be asking is not whether a third party is possible, but whether it is a good idea.
Should the Tea Party become an actual party, it will split the political machine into three unequal parts. Democrats are not seeing the schism that conservatives are. By remaining united, the left side of America will maintain a majority in the mathematics that go into determining power. Conservatives will not gain strength by splitting in two. Instead, they will simply hand over power to the Democrats and allow them to hold it more firmly. All the ideas of a third party are bad ideas for conservatives as a whole, even if they are good ideas for political players individually. Instead of speaking of the Republican party in the past tense, as Chris McDaniel in the speech he gave which did not concede the race in Mississippi, Tea Partiers should be looking to consolidate power within the Republican party if they want to have any impact on the political machine at all. Only time will tell if they have decided to do that or take their tea party somewhere else.
At five years old, the extreme right movement is barely out of the toddler stage of development and yet it has managed to gain a foothold as one of the players in political action. Most people would not let a five-year-old have a say in major decisions, but that is what the tea party is demanding. It could possibly try to become its own establishment by splitting from the GOP and becoming a third party. This may seem unlikely, but it is not impossible. The mature thing to do, however, would be to try and play nice with the Republican party where they might actually do some good. Is the vociferous conservative movement ready to do more than play at politics? Maybe not, but the Tea Party is getting dangerously close to seeing what it can do with real tea in its cups.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury