Former Bush speechwriter and Daily Beast contributing editor David Frum echoed much of D.C. and elite liberal opinion when he suggested on Tuesday that it would be a “blessing” for Republicans if the Tea Party left the party. “[I]t’s not always true that a party is weakened by the departure of its most extreme supporters,” he said, comparing the Tea Party–how original!–to the Democrat segregationists of the South.
But Frum, who professes to be a Republican and occasionally has a conservative thought, would miss the Tea Party if it left. So, too, would the rest of America–including the Democrats, who take for granted much of what the Tea Party stands for and has protected. Here is a partial list of the things for which Frum–and America–ought to be thanking the Tea Party for doing, when no one else in Washington would.
1. Providing political opposition. The post-Bush Republican Party was demoralized, not just defeated, and looking for a way to accommodate a new era of big government. The Tea Party provided a check on the excesses of President Barack Obama’s power. Frum picks on Tea Party candidates for losing key Senate races, yet he notably fails to mention the House, which the GOP would not have won without the Tea Party.
2. Imposing fiscal discipline. The Tea Party is the only reason the federal government has not wasted more money on bailouts. Left to their own devices, Obama and his party would have driven the deficit and debt even higher. Decry the debt ceiling fights all you want: the sequester is the only cut to government in decades. On the state level, Tea Party-backed candidates have turned governance around–and just in time.
3. Standing up on immigration reform. Frum in particular should be thanking Ted Cruz & Co. every day for leading the charge against a “comprehensive” immigration reform effort that Frum recognizes as deeply flawed. He called the elite push for immigration a “nonsense consensus“–and yet without the Tea Party’s efforts for border security and a more sensible policy, that nonsense would be the law of the land.
4. Fighting Obamacare. Instead of comparing Ted Cruz to George Wallace–a favored comparison of MSNBC anchors for just about anyone they do not like, including the owner of the Washington Redskins–Frum might consider that the stand against Obamacare drew attention to the issue at a time when the rest of the country was meant to be focused on immigration reform as the new exchanges hummed into action.
5. Yes, Bipartisanship. Frum and much of the Republican establishment are committed to an assertive foreign policy and tough anti-terror measures (policies I, too, happen to support). Yet the Tea Party’s “wacko birds” have offered a correction by reviving concerns about Fourth Amendment rights and the prerogatives of Congress in war. And in doing so, those “extremists” have built bridges across the political divide.
A final word, about the “sensible center” that Frum imagines can win elections without the Tea Party. For two presidential elections in a row, the GOP has nominated moderates who lost. Yet the Democrats who were supposed to flock to more palatable alternatives to the Tea Party (and, in 2008, to the Bush-era GOP) never materialized. There is always space in the media for anti-conservative GOP foils. But rarely at the ballot box.