Will Tea Party accidently reelect Obama?

Could the ongoing purge of old-line Republicans weaken party, dampen Nov. turnout?

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
What, if any conclusions can we draw from this week’s primary election races?

Obviously, rule one of politics: money matters. In almost every race, the better funded campaign won — and in the case of the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, despite the active support of a sitting governor and most of the party establishment for Unionville native Steve Welch, sheer cash, in the name of self-funded Tom Smith, won out.

And yes, money played a factor in Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s fairly easy dismissal of Roger Howard in the primary.

But a bigger factor — and one to watch — isn’t a matter of ideology, but rather one of nuts and bolts campaign skills. Although Howard lost (although only by a razor-thin margin in Chester County), a number of Tea Party backed county committee members won election this week (not to mention Smith, founder of a western Pennsylvania Tea Party organization) and the question may be in the long term whether passion can make up for a lack of experience and expertise — and maybe a lack of discipline.

Having spent more than my fair share of time in politics, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that true believers — left and right —  tend to be less effective, less dependable and less disciplined when it comes to politics. In part, I think, that’s because they are so convinced of their righteousness, they see little need for convincing others. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fit well with mainstream politics.

Done properly, politics is a grind, an endless march of phone calls (some for money), door knocking, persuasion, organizing and making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. In many important ways — and this makes a lot of people crazy to hear this — ideology is pretty far down the list of the things that make for an effective political organization. I rate organization, management and discipline much higher.

Among Democrats, I constantly got knocked as secretly being a Republican, because I always stressed annoying things like voter contact, consistent message communication, raising money, rather than theatrical rallies and lawn signs — and for holding realistic points of view, suggesting that at times there are limits to what taxpayers can be burdened with. Suggesting that layoffs might be needed in the county government back in 2009 as the economic crisis was cresting marked me with some in the party as sort of right-wing kook (Although truth be told, I did hold a more fiscally conservative position than my successful GOP opponent — even if I am more socially moderate).

And of course, at any given time — as is the case right now — two or more factions within the Chester County party would be at war, each side more interested in scoring intramural points rather than winning November elections.

When asking why something wasn’t done, I can’t tell you how many times I heard “dude, I flaked.” More than once, I found myself jealous of the structure, discipline and maturity of the Chester County Republicans. Trying to make Democrats work together is often described as “herding cats” but that’s kind of an insult to house cats.

Interestingly, though, I’m seeing the same phenomena coming as the Tea Party infiltrates the GOP. The old hand committee people being shown the door are leaving with deep knowledge, both in terms of geography and politics. The new, more extreme committee members may have passion, but lack the experience, and in some cases, the skills, to turn their emotional commitment into voter turnout.

One long-time former GOP committee person told me not long ago that a lot of the old-time committee people have been pushed out and current GOP chair Val DiGiorgio — a favorite of the old guard — is forced to walk a tightrope to keep a Tea Party tide from overrunning the party and wrecking an effective organization, yet at the same time keeping a growing party segment satisfied.

The stakes are pretty big and I don’t think many Tea Party people understand them.

I found myself scratching my head when Roger Howard basically said in a voter forum last week he could never work with Democrats and suggested that much of what the party stands for is illegitimate.

Here’s the problem with that: Pennsylvania has about 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans — does that mean it’s possible that Howard and his Tea Party colleagues feel that a majority of registered voters in the commonwealth hold views and positions that are illegitimate? That sort of gives you pause with all of the rhetoric of late with President Barack Obama getting knocked for allegedly “knowing better” than the American people. It would seem Howard and the Tea Party are in the same boat — ignoring the views of a majority of Pennsylvania voters, because they too know better.

Granted, that only goes so far and it is probably better left as an argument for talk radio.

But something more to consider: the state Republican Party establishment — often derided by the Tea Party as “sellouts” — have managed to effectively maintain control of state government despite a large statewide disadvantage in terms of voter registration.

Sure, the GOP has been helped by abject incompetence of state Democratic Party officials — who repeatedly seem to act like rejects from the latest “Three Stooges” movie. But sheer numbers suggest that it’s still taken a highly effective GOP organization to win the day.

For the most part, those called “sellouts” by some in the Tea Party have managed to control the state legislature, the state Supreme Court and many statewide elective positions largely through offering some appeal to moderate Democrats and independents. The further the party is pushed to the right, the more difficult task that becomes.

And don’t think for a second that Chester County isn’t a bellweather, either. The suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia have long been a firewall — winning statewide elections and until 2008, pushing electoral votes into the GOP column. Already, Campaign & Elections magazine just cited Chester County as one 10 pivotal counties in the U.S. that could turn the 2012 presidential election.

So one has to wonder whether the actions of Tea Party are more likely to hurt the hopes of Mitt Romney and help those of Barack Obama in November.

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  1. Observing says:

    There are some good points being made here. I would add two things. First, the primary election notes a synthesized move to the right within the GOP. I share some other poster’s concerns that the GOP has not done enough to demonstrate fiscal discipline including the sale of the state stores and pension reform. A move to the right will be a good thing. As it relates to the loss of the “old guard” well, I see little problem with that. A lot of the “old guard” committeepeople on the GOP side have been out of touch for a decade and haven’t met a new Republican voter for two decades. Fresh blood and a willingness to work will benefit the party.

  2. Michael Wright says:


    While many of the points that you make about the nuts and bolts of politics are absolutely correct (see asterisk below), I believe that you draw entirely the wrong conclusion in your article. Only time will tell. Of course.

    From my perspective when you say that “the question may be in the long term whether passion can make up for a lack of experience and expertise — and maybe a lack of discipline,” you are being frightfully condescending.

    The implication of that statement is that you don’t think that the Life experience of anyone else – outside of politics – has value (inside of politics). At least not right away. If that is so, incumbents will always be our best choice. That’s certainly not the case in ‘real life,’ why would it be so in politics?

    Secondly, it is hard to overlook the fact that it is the ‘experience and expertise’ of those in office now – locally, in Harrisburg, and in Washington – that have created the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

    Maybe that is what we just saw in the primary election, people recognizing that we need to change that ‘experience.’

    Further, in the article you say that ‘true believers’ (used as a disparaging term) “are so convinced of their righteousness, they see little need for convincing others.”

    Let’s examine that assessment.

    Think about the ‘razor-thin margin’ that you cite for Senator Pileggi over his opponent in the primary in Chester County. What was the spending differential in that race? (As an aside, that would be an interesting story, Mike. I’d find it interesting, anyway.)

    All I know is that, as a Chester County voter, I saw the Senator’s ads on television, I heard them on the radio, and I received at least half a dozen mailers. I saw at least one digital billboard for the Senator, I received numerous phone calls, some recorded, some in person. I was called on the phone to be part of a poll by the Senator’s campaign…and also a town hall on the telephone. The Senator also had banner advertisements all over the internet, and his campaign had signs everywhere.

    I guess that could be called persuasion, but it was more like immersion. This is not to cast aspersion on Senator Pileggi. It is just a reality.

    Again, I don’t know what the other guy spent, but I’d never even heard of him before this election, and he still managed to persuade almost 50% of those who voted (in Chester County) last Tuesday. And apparently without the same level of financial support as the Senator.

    Sounds pretty convincing to me.

    Anyway, the point I’m making is that what you are alluding to as ‘fringe’ candidates and their supporters are really the ones that DO have to persuade.

    Reading further into your ‘true believers’ statement, if most of those who are ‘mainstream acceptable’ don’t truly believe in what they purport to stand for, then is it any wonder we’re in the trouble we’re in?

    Next you’re going to say that what you meant is that those ‘fringe’ candidates are inflexible. I don’t believe that is so at all. Quite the contrary. But the question I pose to you then becomes: “When does the other side of the equation have to be flexible?”

    In my experience, the movement of the government has been inflexibly and inexorably in ONE direction, with a brief respite in the 1980s. And that movement has been toward a cliff.

    We are now there at that precipice.

    Mike, Federal, State, and Local governments have already spent ALL of the tax money that will be collected from our children during their lifetimes (at the current rates).

    THAT’S where we are. Something has to change.

    I’ll certainly do everything I can to persuade others of this need.

    Unfortunately for the country, President Obama and his administration make my case for me.

    That takes me to one final point. The headline of your article seems to suggest that it MAY be possible that some level of infighting within the Republican Party – caused by the ‘TEA Party’ or some similar nefarious grouping – will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this November 6th.

    Not going to happen.

    (The internecine fighting that is.)

    President Obama poses a formidable electoral challenge. It’s hard to fathom why, given the comprehensive failure his policies have been for the country, but it is so nonetheless.

    Conservatives will now vote for the most-conservative candidate remaining in each of the races. Believe it. They know that the stakes are too high not to do so.

    I personally have talked to nearly 500 voters in the last 3 months…door-to-door…and that is the cumulative take-away from all those conversations. Every one. Without exception.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the new Committee members that your article notes was elected last Tuesday. While I am not a ‘TEA Party backed’ candidate (that I know of), I do consider myself to be a Constitutional Conservative.

    I will do my best to represent and serve East Marlborough East (Precinct 355), and to ensure that what your headline suggests…never happens.

    Michael Wright

    Post Script: Mike, thank you for the forum that you have created for Unionville/ Kennett Square with the Unionville Times. What you do on a daily basis is very much appreciated by the community. I don’t know HOW you are doing it, but the coverage of local community issues, people, news and events is terrific.

    *[a grind, an endless march of phone calls (some for money), door knocking, persuasion, organizing]

  3. Helen Weber says:

    You certainly don’t seem to understand what is going on in Chester County as you state “the case right now — two or more factions within the Chester County party would be at war, each side more interested in scoring intramural points rather than winning November elections”. Promises of needed reform were made by republican candidates during the 2010 elections, and many conservatives worked hard to bring about republican control of all branches of the PA government only to see it squandered by the some of the sitting politicians (particularly in the senate). No pension reform (as promised), prevailing wage remains (a program which increases property taxes and denies children of needed school funding), R-CAP, no right to work law, no real tort reform and these are only a few of things which are being ignored. When you look at the union and trial lawyer campaign contributions made to leading republicans you begin to understand why things are not changing in Harrisburg. The republican hieracy in Chester and Delaware County continue to support the same politicians that receive the contributions and hold up meaningful legislation, that is why there is a conflict within the Chester County Republican Party. Some accept business as usual, other do not and want to change business as usual!

  4. amb says:

    Sorry I misspelled Tom. Should have more carefully read before hitting submit button.

  5. amb says:

    Toim Smith didn’t only win because he had money. A huge part of why he won was because the grassroots did not like the liberal endorsed by the state party.

  6. Hank says:

    Sounds like wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. Got 3 words near and dear to every TEA Party member:

    Anyone. But. Obama.

  7. Mike McGann says:

    Just to be clear, this is not a column about ideology or policy — it strictly addresses the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of politics as they exist.

    Putting in a sports context, I might really dislike the BCS (which I do) because it’s a poor way to determine a college football champion, but I still could write a column arguing that the BCS formula is being properly applied or managed.

    Don’t assume I endorse the current system, but barring an unlikely sea change (and the sudden removal of a lot of money from the system), it’s probably not going to change, so it makes sense to write about what is, rather than what might be.

    • Perhaps we started too late-but better late than never.
      Our problems, today, lie with all the ‘acommodaters’, the compromisers, who want to get along and, thereby, get re-elected.
      The Tea Party must be the sea change-if not all is lost.

  8. Pilgrim's Pride says:

    I’m afraid you miss the point entirely, as your premise is two-fold:

    1. ‘Politics as usual’ is the purpose, the be all, end all of Chester county society (I admit the term ‘county’ itself is politicentric).

    2. A well functioning political machine is an asset to us citizens.

    I dispute both assumptions and I am not even a “tea partier”. Actually, I think the name an insult to those brave American men that threw the actual “tea party” in Boston harbor but I digress.

    ‘Politics’ has become its own justification. It provides cash, prestige, power and control to those who own it. All those are taken, by force, from us peaceable citizens.

    Destroying the effectiveness of the two dominant political parties would be a good thing as they have been artificially maintained for a very long time. A little creative destruction would be beneficial to us in numerous ways.

    First of all, elimination of parties would force citizens to re-engage in their own destiny. Outsourcing of civil life would be considered kooky once again.

    Second of all, the manipulation possible by the higher echelons of the party would be made impossible. Without money — the true power of politics — it would be impossible to hire the bureaucrats and enforcers that make our lives miserable.

    Finally, a destruction of the national parties would necessitate local solutions to problems, in the practical absence of national dictatorship.

    Federalism would reign once again. States would return to their original post-Independence, well, independence. Localities would be the primary government for the citizens. Washington would fade into a richly deserved oblivion and Harrisburg would be something manageable.

    Screw politics as usual. An efficient party apparatus is nothing more than an efficient local branch of the Gambino family. Ask South Philly how that works for them.

  9. TK69 says:

    You point out that the Teaparty may get Obama selected. But you miss the big elephant in the room; it doesn’t really matter who wins as the country has no more money to spend.

    Obama is not the real problem. It is just a symptom of a bigger problem.

    At some point the government will default, ether by printing money or not paying their obligations. Why? Because money is created out of thin air and lent (elastic money supply). It does not circulate but sits in banking reserves waiting to be lent. ANd there is too much of it at all levels of government and in the private sector.

    The wizards of smart believe that this is a great deal because expanding the money supply means and increasing economy. However, they forget that this money must be paid back which takes money out of the economy. It is all a lie and is the real reason why the government got into the housing market.

    Without this, no government cannot not pay for the socialist or military state. This is the heart of the fanatical crises as governments around the world refuse to shrink, nor residents want to give up benefits that cannot be paid for. WIthout a growing supply of money, the government has no one to buy its bonds, thus ending it’s financing.

    Obama will only bring a speedier end to government as we know it. BUt change is coming regardless. Government and those dependent on it are not going to like it.

    With the rise of communication, we are actually looking at the end of the state and centralized governements..

  10. Jim Codichini says:

    I don’t know where to start. Voters are looking for something more than “we are not as bad as the other party” as a message. In fact what independent voters want is not fecklessness but a candidate or party that keeps its promises. So when the Democrats say they are going to pass universal health care, and they do, voters at least respect them for being good for their word. Conversely when Republicans who control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the PA legislature say they are going to privatize the sale of alcohol and do not, they lose voter trust. If we as Republicans say we are going to cut the federal budget by $100 billion and then propose less than a billion in cuts, our brand will is diminished. Ronald Reagan won three (including 1988) landslides because he did what he said he was going to do. Top marginal tax rates went from 70% to 28% and the Soviet Union was neutralized. A great party and great leaders have a purpose other than defeating the political opposition. Republicans all agree that the last four years of state control of health care, financial institutions, etc. has been a dismal failure. But voters deserve to know specifically what the Republican vision for the future is, and even more they have every right to expect us to keep our promises when we control the football.

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