When it comes to government spending, the Republican Party is like a sinner who repents every Sunday morning without every quite remembering what it did Saturday night. The cycle starts in 1964, when the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, an unflinching, eat-your-broccoli, anti-government conservative. Goldwater wanted to slash the welfare state because, in good Tea Party fashion, he believed it was robbing Americans of their liberty. He even prioritized spending cuts over tax cuts, arguing that if the latter were not matched by the former, the country would go into deficit, which no principled conservative could allow. It was all very principled, and very unpopular: Goldwater lost in one of the largest landslides in American history…

Which brings us to the Tea Party, many of whose activists seem genuinely dedicated to slashing government spending (except on the military, of course) and making the party of Reagan and Bush, once again, the party of Goldwater and Gingrich. Maybe this is one reason the GOP establishment is so scared? Over the last half-century, the Republican Party has been, at times, a genuinely anti-government party and, at times, a politically successful party. But it’s never been both at the same time. Once this fall’s elections are over, I suspect the Tea Partiers will begin learning that, the hard way.