August 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

Nolan Finley

Tea party must come to its senses

Michigan’s tea party revolt fizzled in Tuesday’s primary. Insurgent Republicans picked up only a couple of state House seats up north but otherwise were turned back in their bid to punish GOP lawmakers for supporting Gov. Rick Snyder’s Obamacare expansion of Medicaid.

Now the movement has to decide who its real enemies are.

When it formed in 2010, the tea party was the best thing that happened to the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan brought conservative Christians into politics in 1980.

It swept the GOP to historic victories just four years ago.

Then it turned on its host.

“The radical right hijacked the movement,” says L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive.

“They’ve brought a destructive element into the political process.”

Over the past four years, the tea party has turned sharply from a broad expression of frustration with government to a demand that any politician worthy of its vote must hold rigidly to its principles.

Winning elections and the chance to change the policies the movement detests grew less important than maintaining 100 percent ideological purity.

Pragmatism became a dirty word.

“They’d rather go down to defeat than bend on their principles,” Patterson says.

That’s a fine pose for religious martyrs.

But a political movement must win elections to reap its reward.

There’s no political hereafter to be gained in sacrificing power to a higher cause.

The tea party Republicans should weigh that reality heading into the state GOP convention later this month.

A segment of the movement hopes to punish Snyder by replacing his lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, who is a solid 10 on the conservative scale, with Wes Nagakiri, a tea party upstart with no political experience and no appeal to the Michigan electorate.

Calley should survive the challenge. But the last thing Republicans need ahead of the fall election is a divisive, destructive and distracting convention fight.

Snyder’s opponent, the very liberal Mark Schauer, is holding tight to the governor in most recent polls. That will attract a lot of out-of-state Democratic money to the race, particularly from labor unions.

The governor will need the full support of his own party, as will U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, and GOP congressional and legislative hopefuls.

State Republicans have the potential for a big night on Nov. 4 — “if the tea party doesn’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Patterson warns.

“This election is set up for us given President Obama’s unpopularity. If these people don’t come to their senses, we’ll lose this opportunity. We have to unite to defeat a common enemy.”

That enemy isn’t Rick Snyder, or any of the other “traditional Republicans” the tea party has tormented this election cycle.

Tea party followers must ask themselves whether they’d rather have Democrats in charge and zero percent of their agenda enacted, or help elect Republicans who will give them 90 percent of what they say they want.

nfinley@detroitnews.com
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