HONOLULU, Aug. 1, 2015 – With the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential election just days away, millions of Americans who have never before voted in an election, nor taken any prior interest in politics will be tuning their TVs to watch the 10 candidates seeking their vote. As there is still confusion between the difference between mainstream Republicans and “tea party” Republicans and their role in this election cycle, consider this your authoritative FAQ and walkthrough to understanding the issues and the people.
1. What is the difference between the Republican Party and the tea party?
The Republican Party kernel publicly dates back to June 16, 1854 when author Horace Greeley printed in the Tribune an article entitled “Party Names and Public Duty.” Amidst an uprising of anti-slavery Whigs who had been meeting for months in various states to discuss the future direction of the nation, Greeley wrote:
“Accepting and upholding those ideas of Public Policy which used to characterize the Whig Party prior to 1852, and agreeing substantially with the Free Democratic party in all it affirms with regard to slavery, we could wish to see a union of all those members of the two parties who believe resistance to the extension of Slave Territory and Slave Power the most urgent public duty of our day. We should not much care whether those thus united were designated ‘Whig,’ ‘Free Democratic,’ or something else; though we think some simple name like Republican would fitly designate those who have united to restore our union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty, rather than propagandist of Slavery” (italics added).
The name “Republican” proved marketable for political platforms, and the party that eventually took root was an ideological accretion of anti-slavery Whigs, the pro-farmer Free Soil Party members, and nativist/anti-illegal immigration American Party members.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, followed by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and the military victory of the North over the South in 1865, ultimately established the Republican Party as a dominant icon of the “new” United States of America which focused on national interests and increased federal authority. Over the course of the tail end of the 19th century, the Republican Party would play a major role in public works, corporate protectionism, central (national) banking, the establishment of the modern postal system and, notably, the National Academy of Sciences.
Economist Charles Conant, author of “The Economic Basis of Imperialism,” heavily influenced the formation of the Republican Party’s 20th century foreign policy views when he stated,
“For the means of finding new productive employments for capital … it is necessary that the great industrial countries should turn to countries which have not felt the pulse of modern progress … The United States cannot afford to adhere to a policy of isolation while other nations are reaching out for command of these new markets … The entry of the United States upon the competition for the world’s markets means some radical changes in their existing policy, but it means an enlarged share in the world’s earnings and in the respect of other civilized states.”
The disastrous fallout of both World War I and later the Great Depression on America triggered a conflict within the Republican Party which ultimately birthed a faction that opposed economic interventionism and big government practices. This intraparty division between the core Republican Party leadership and the counter-revolutionary Republican minority movement persists to this day some eight decades later, manifesting under various names and faction leaders over many years (example, “Rockefeller Republicans” vs. “Goldwater Republicans” or “RINOs” vs. “conservatives” and more recently, “GOP” vs. “Tea Party”) but ultimately is the same conflict.
The current tea party movement (renascent conservatism) began during the height of the Global Banking Crisis as a public blowback to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, as well as the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. It differs from previous conservative movements in that the Tea Party is a loose coalition of minarchist libertarians, fiscal and social conservatives and religious individuals who are not organized by a single leader or caucus organization but identify mostly with the Republican party ID at the ballot. There is currently no agreed definition to what exactly constitutes a “tea party” candidate aside from an individual’s relative popularity with individuals who identify as members of the tea party.
2. Is the tea party racist/sexist?
No. The tea party consists of individuals of all races and genders who identify first and foremost as Americans due to a general sense of patriotism and shared national experience. As a carryover from the Cold War era in which the world was clearly delineated between East and West, many middle to older-aged tea party-types carry a distrust of external, outside influences on American values — especially ones that change policies or long-seated cultural norms. The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in the eyes of most tea party members, reinforces the fear that America is vulnerable to infiltration and sabotage.
Because many members of the tea party are also active, reserve, or retired members of the U.S. military, a belief in an “earn your way to the top” honor system of meritocracy is a commonly shared value. Small business owners, who also constitute a large part of the movement, likewise know the day-to-day struggle of competition and dislike any system which unfairly assigns rewards or redistributes profits purely on political, racial or gender-based justification.
Democrats have made an aggressive push to silence opposition and sidestep serious debate by casting anyone that disagrees with their policies as racists or misogynists. The reality is that the tea party doesn’t focus on race or gender, because they believe the American system is sufficient enough to reward anyone who is willing to work hard.
3. Is the tea party neoconservative and “pro-war”?
No. While a number of establishment Republicans have attempted to retread and rebrand as “tea party” candidates in the Obama era of politics –bringing with them big government doctrines and neoconservative followers — the core of the tea party prefers defending American borders at home first to costly wars abroad and views national security through a filer of what is absolutely necessarfy to keep America and her traditional allies safe.
There is currently disagreement within the tea party over security issues like Iran’s nuclear program, with some like Rand Paul favoring a cautious, restrained approach and others who favor a hardline, proactive strategy which includes the right to strike if as a political utility, but the tea party is primarily concerned with strengthening America and, if necessary, immediately eliminating threats to national security rather than allowing them to fester.
Many tea party members — some, as former Reagan supports — agree with the Powell-Weinberger Doctrine, which states up front that the U.S. should not commit forces to combat unless vital interests of the U.S. or her allies are involved. Other tea party members take a strict, disciplined, constitutional approach and believe the U.S. should commit to military force only through a declaration of war. In both cases, the goal of tea party members is to eliminate the need for war, rather than depend on it. As deficit hawks, most tea party members recognize the impact that protracted military engagement and international “police actions” have on taxpayers and the already out-of-control national debt.
4. Is the tea party a bunch of “theocrats” out to impose a religious order on America?
No. While many tea partiers are socially conservative and others may identify specifically as Christian conservatives, their beliefs are no more extreme or radical than many famous Democrats from America’s 20th century past who recognized the importance of faith, in general, in the affairs of civilization. FDR, who is still loved by the most hardline of liberal Democrats, famously wrote in Bibles distributed to the U.S. military,
“As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse orgins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”
Not all tea partiers are Christian, and not all believe in the existence of a god or higher power. Tea partiers who are Christians, however, do not see their faith as something to be ashamed of; they are proud of their religious heritage and see personal evangelism as a critical part of their First Amendment rights.
5. Is the tea party anti-science?
No. The tea party’s primary objections are to violations of U.S. sovereignty, crippling restrictions of individual freedoms, and government control of personal choices. As a result, many tea party members are against purported “environmental” regulations because they see through them as attempts to rig the market, not sincere efforts to “save the planet.”
Many tea party members see scientific progress and technological advancement as a critical part of national success and U.S. exceptionalism. Ronald Reagan, who is near-universally viewed favorably among tea partiers was a vocal advocate for science, especially in the area of aerospace research. Democrats have attempted to monopolize science as their cover for support of higher taxation, globalism, and increased regulatory power, not to mention an anti-religious agenda.
In summary, the tea party is, in fact, more reasonable than most “mainstream” Democrats and Republicans who advocate extreme abuses of long-held American traditions and civil liberties. The majority of tea party members are just like the rest of Americans, interested in protecting their family and the future of their nation. Tea partiers are an important moral, cultural, and political conscience to America’s elections and an essential key to moving the U.S. back to limited government and economic freedom.
Every political movement is affected by the people who participate in it. What’s missing from the tea party? Maybe it’s you.
Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist, an ordained minister, a former elected official and the author of the new political thriller “American Kiss,” available now from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other major bookstores. DISCLOSURE: Danny de Gracia is an elected Republican district chairman, but his opinions are expressly his own and do not reflect the official opinion of any organization.