Libertarians vs. social cons: Battle for the soul of the tea party

At issue: whether the amorphous grassroots movement can wield the sort of influence on congressional leaders that it did on congressional candidates, or if it will be drowned out by old alliances. “In a battle royale between the religious right Tea Party and the libertarian Tea Party, I would have to bet with the Christian conservatives,” says Lynn.

The libertarian insurgents are currently gathered around Andrew Ian Dodge, a science-fiction writer and amateur rocker (with a penchant for writing lyrics about reducing the size of government), who serves as the unpaid coordinator for Maine’s Tea Party Patriots. Unlike folks on the Christian right, he and his allies aren’t tied in to a network of endowed think tanks, private universities, and broadcasting outlets that help to amplify their message. And Dodge is skeptical of groups like the Tea Party Express, which, he says, is “a Republican front run by Republican apparatchiks.” As an outsider, he’s enjoying having a chance at being on the inside, and he’s not going to give up his seat so easily. “Look at me: I’m a hairy guy with an earring. It’s a new environment on the American right where someone like me fits in, one driven not by an individual but by a core belief system.” A belief system that is made up of the nonreligious tenets of fiscal responsibility, free-market economics, and limited government, according to Dodge…

For his part, Lynn predicts the honeymoon period, such as it is, will last three to six months, when the GOP starts organizing for 2012. A split would leave a much-reduced Tea Party, since 32 percent of its supporters say they are completely opposed to abortion, and 40 percent are against same-sex civil unions, according to an April New York Times poll. Gushee expects cracks to develop even over fiscal issues, as younger evangelicals balk at efforts to abandon the social safety net, or if Rep. Ron Paul and incoming Sen. Rand Paul challenge military spending. “Most evangelical Christian conservatives I know would at least be uneasy about the prospect of the government leaving the poor to their own devices and having churches pick up the slack,” he says.

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