Tea Party activists are trying to take over the establishment, ground up.
Across the country, they are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.
A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party — and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.
I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a good thing for the Republican Party in the long term. Should Tea Party activists rise in the party from the bottom up, they’ll begin from the mistaken premise that the GOP is in a mess because it elects closet liberals. As I’ve noted before, this is incorrect: though Tea Party attendees may imagine that the folks who sold them out during the Bush Administration were insufficiently conservative in their ideology, the fact of the matter is that folks like Karl Rove and Tom Delay were calling the shots and doing the most harm. I’ve heard those men called corrupt, but I’ve never heard them called RINOs.
Actually taking over the GOP by rising through the ranks, however, is inevitably going to open the eyes of these new politicos to what actually goes on inside the conservative movement, and hopefully over time they’ll seek candidates who are less like Sarah Palin and more like Gary Johnson. This presumes that the Tea Party folks are earnest in their small government beliefs, and that they won’t be corrupted by rising through the ranks. Some of them obviously will be corrupted, but while I don’t imagine they’ll be spectacularly better than what we’ve got now, I do think that the way they came to power might make them marginally less corrupted by the power they’ll eventually wield… if only they don’t fall prey to the catastrophic success that Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnurru are smartly worrying about.