I take it this is a warning shot that any wrong moves legislatively will result in primary challenges and/or third-party runs. That point isn’t made explicitly, granted, but does it need to be?
The letter, obtained Thursday by CNN, was co-signed by a fleet of top conservative activists including former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Let Freedom Ring founder Colin Hanna and Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer.
It asks McConnell, Boehner and Barbour to “go before the American people jointly and present a unified vision of what this Republican victory will stand for” – namely lower taxes, reducing the size of government, a commitment to “restoring traditional moral values” and a muscular foreign policy.
Here’s the full text. First of all, didn’t the GOP already present a “unified vision” of core principles (sans the “traditional moral values” part) just two months ago in the Pledge To America? I’m not sure what the signatories here want beyond that; if they have specific policies in mind that they want enacted, identifying them would have been much more useful than simply reciting the usual “These Things I Believe” list of conservative values.
Second, I’m intrigued by what they say in the letter about “reducing government spending to only those functions entrusted to it in our great constitution.” Is that a hint that it’s time to reform Social Security and Medicare, or are those two budget-wrecking programs part of the core conservative agenda imagined here? (See what I mean about how useful specificity would have been?) The more I watch tea party honchos rant against government spending and big government, the more frustrated I am that, for all their ardor, only very rarely do they squarely address the problem of entitlements and what aging Baby Boomers will mean for it. Even the tea party’s “Contract from America” doesn’t touch the third rail: It dances around it, demanding a balanced budget and tax reform, calling for a statutory cap on spending, and proposing a task force on fiscal responsibility, but never are any of the old entitlements specifically targeted. (By contrast, the Contract explicitly calls for repealing ObamaCare and rejecting cap-and-trade.) The greatest thing the tea party could do for fiscal responsibility is to simply start talking about this; doing so won’t land entitlement reform on the national agenda immediately, but putting the idea in people’s heads will at least prepare the ground for it. And the ground does need to be prepared, urgently: See this pie chart and the accompanying commentary from Philip Klein about the GOP’s “fiscal fantasyland” and you’ll understand why. But then, there’s a reason why even “true conservatives” for the most part don’t want to touch this. Remember this data set from the NYT’s poll of tea partiers back in April?
Is there a single prominent Republican apart from Paul Ryan who’s sincerely ready to go to work on this? Chris Christie? Rubio? Anyone?
Update: Keli Carender of the Tea Party Patriots e-mails to say that the candidate questionnaire used by the TPP explicitly mentions Social Security and Medicare reform as a priority. Credit where it’s due.