Evan Schwartz: Tea party throws off congressional balance

As students and their families swarmed to campus for move-in on Saturday, tea partiers swarmed the District to attend the “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial. And while the timing served as a reminder of what living in D.C. means for GW students, it also indicated a recent paradigm shift in the Republican Party.

Just over two years ago, the future of the Republican Party lay in the hands of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. The three most viable candidates for the Republican presidential nomination seemed poised to take down Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. However, all five candidates soon ran into the campaign buzz saw known as Barack Obama.

Since then, those three Republicans have been cast aside, maligned within their own party and fighting for their political lives. Now, the three most important Republicans are political commentators, members of the media and professional pot stirrers. This troika has put its stamp on the political landscape over the last two years without winning a single vote, and has elevated the status of the Republican Party by becoming near rock stars to their fans. Those three people are Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.

They have certainly done enough to exhume Obama’s religious credibility issues, paint Democrats as out of touch with “real” Americans, and raise the star power of the tea party movement, all things that weaken the Democratic Party as elections draw closer. But the three present a problem to the GOP. They may be the most high-profile conservatives around, but all three are simply not viable candidates for high political office. If the three people voters most closely associate with the GOP are not even running for office, then the near-future of the party may be less secure than that of the Democrats.

Beck is a self-described entertainer, but he surely has a sense of the incredible amount of power his words hold. His “non-political” rally, headlined by the unabashedly political Palin, was full of religious rhetoric, and was attended by hundreds of thousands of loyal supporters, according to Beck’s own estimates. Limbaugh has indicated a desire to run for office, and Palin has made no secret of her political ambitions. She has lavished her support on handpicked candidates around the country, offering them a voting bump in exchange for espousing her ideals.

Personal issues plague Limbaugh, including multiple marriages and addiction issues, and Palin’s own approval rating is far below that of Obama’s, leading to Election Day defeats of some of her handpicked candidates in recent months.

The tea party movement is ostensibly bad for Democrats, but it is certainly no guarantee of future GOP dominance. The three loudest conservative voices in America are actively encouraging the type of anti-Washington rhetoric that can damage any incumbent politician, regardless of party affiliation. If these three are the most high-profile Republicans around, they will continue to pull attention from more viable, middle-of-the-road candidates like Romney, Tim Pawlenty and rising star Bobby Jindal. They have also distilled the message of their party to a simple, anti-Obama creed often buttressed by misinformation.

The Democrats may lose Congress this year, but anyone saying that it will signal the end of Obama’s presidency must consider the fact that at this moment, the Republican Party has almost no one candidate it can push as a viable opponent in 2012. Tea party mania has claimed the seats of Democratic politicians as well as Republicans. But cannibalizing the GOP is no way to prepare for a legitimate shot at the White House in 2012.

Until then, GW students may have to contend with more tea party rallies led by the infamous trio. But this movement proves that even though many tea partiers invaded the city for the rally held on Saturday, there is no guarantee that tea party candidates will invade Congress – or the White House.

–The writer, a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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