Much as Mr. Reagan’s revolution brought to prominence some previously little-known conservatives, the Republican party now is increasingly influenced by a crop of candidates unknown nationally (and sometimes within their own states) just a few months ago, and by a former governor named Palin.
One difference is that while Mr. Reagan made Republicans more conservative, the tea party is making them more populist. Business interests will find, for example, that when they turn to the Republican Party to support free-trade agreements, the tea-party contingent isn’t going to fall into line as Reagan conservatives did. And certainly this new wave of Republican leaders doesn’t share the late president’s positive view of immigration.
Today, as in 1980, it’s centrists in both parties who have to figure out where this process leaves them: Do they have a home in the evolving political system? Just as the Republican candidates being washed out to sea this year tend to be the party’s centrists, so too will many of the Democrats vanquished this year be party centrists who lose their seats in the Republican wave now forming.