Until last night, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that the Tea Party was on the wane… But after 85 House Republicans joined Boehner in raising taxes without spending reductions during the end game of Monday night’s fiscal-cliff negotiations, Tea Party leaders and conservative activists from around the country are dusting off their tri-corner hats and “Don’t Tread On Me” signs, and now say that their members are as energized as they have ever been since the first Tax Day protests in 2009. And the Republican Party, they add, had better beware.
“We now have 85 members of the House who have shunned their noses at us,” said Dustin Stockton, a Texas- and Nevada-based operative and the chief strategist of The Tea Party.net. “Our job now is to recruit and inspire and motivate people to run against those Republicans who did it.”
Now there is a very simple way for those 85 Republican congressmen to strengthen their position in the 2014 primaries… Change the rules in 2013!
What the GOP really needs is to move away from single party primaries. In Washington State (and California), nonpartisan primaries pick the two top candidates– regardless of party– to go onto the general. A system like this allows moderate Republican candidates— RINOS scared of being primaried by the right– to make it to the general with the support of moderate Democratic voters.
Since Democrats want to make registration and voting easier, there’s a simple grand bargain available. Congress could adopt Washington State’s election system for all federal races. 1. Nonpartisan primaries (good for those 85 walking dead Republicans), 2. Postal voting for all federal races plus local races in states that opt in (simple registration— online or by mail, everyone votes absentee so no more waiting in line on election day, good for Democrats), 3. Nonpartisan congressional redistricting commissions to eliminate gerrymandered districts. Long-term this last reform is good for everyone but since the Republicans have the short-term gerrymandering advantage, Republican congressmen could justify voting for election reform to GOP voters back home by asserting that, in exchange for their vote, they personally made the Democrats back down on immediate redistricting and made them wait until after the 2020 Census. Throw in North Carolina’s system of voluntary public campaign financing (like the bill NC Republican Rep. Walter Jones co-sponsored last Congress) and the DISCLOSE Act requiring, among other things, instant disclosure of SUPERPAC funding(also co-sponsored by Walter Jones)), this would be a pretty solid election reform plan that virtually all the Democrats in Congress and, say, 85 Republicans could support (curiously, the reform-minded Jones isn’t in that cohort, he voted against the fiscal cliff bill).
The Democrats would be doing a good deed (while quickly strengthening President Obama’s ability to get bipartisan deals passed in the House) if they threw a life preserver to these 85 Republicans by pitching them on a bipartisan “the Other Washington” election reform bill. That will be a hell of a better deal for these Republicans than waiting until the Tea Party blasts them in the 2014 primaries, with the Democrats sure to egg on GOP primary voters— Claire MacCaskill-style— to pick the most extreme candidate.