When Rand Paul expressed interest last year in running for the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky, he attracted national attention because, well, he is the son of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. After all, the elder Paul surprised everyone when he proved to be a formidable fundraiser in his 2008 bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
And a reporter for ABC News observed: “Fueled by grassroots momentum and his father's donor base, Paul's candidacy will now put the strength of the Tea Party movement to the test in the general election in November.”
In the general election, Paul will face Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway won the Democratic primary with 44 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who lost the senatorial general election in 2004 to Sen. Jim Bunning by a small margin.
ABC also quoted McConnell’s congratulatory remarks promising to back Paul in November:
"Dr. Paul ran an outstanding campaign which clearly struck a chord with Kentucky voters and I congratulate him on his impressive victory. Now Kentucky Republicans will unite in standing against the overreaching policies of the Obama administration. We are spiraling further into unsustainable debt and Kentucky needs Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate because he will work every day to stop this crippling agenda."
AP reported the day after the election that Paul has pledged to stick to the tea party’s limited government stance for the duration of his campaign, stating:
"People are already saying now you need to weave and dodge, now you need to switch. Now you need to give up your conservative message. You need to become a moderate. You need to give up the tea party.... The tea party message is not a radical message. It's not an extreme message. What is extreme is a $2 trillion deficit."
In another statement quoted by CNN, Paul said: "I have a message from the Tea Party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: 'We've come to take our government back.' "
In a telephone interview with AP, former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said of the Paul victory: "This is a real time of awakening for America. We have an opportunity to not embrace the status quo but to shake things up."
Dr. Paul’s victory, along with the defeat of Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter, and the failure of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (described as a “centrist” Arkansas Democrat) to win a clear majority in her primary, have been viewed by many political pundits as a sign of anti-incumbent sentiment among voters. Considering the state of the economy, with unemployment and foreclosure rates at historically high levels, that assessment is not surprising.
But, unlike the traditional, spontaneous tendency of voters to retire incumbents during poor economic times, the May 18 primary results reveal something more than individual voter discontent. The difference, as frequent references to the Tea Party movement observe, is a new level of heightened citizen activism. As a report from Reuters on May 19 observed:
The anti-establishment, anti-incumbent fevers on display Tuesday are not new. The ideologically charged, grassroots activists flexing their muscle in this week's primary showdowns are the same breed as primary voters who four years ago stripped the Democratic nomination away from Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who later won as an independent.
What's now clear, in a way that wasn't before, is that these results reflect a genuine national phenomenon, not simply isolated spasms in response to single issues or local circumstances.
The report quoted Richard Viguerie, a veteran direct-mail fundraiser and organizer of conservative activists, who called for McConnell’s replacement as the GOP Senate leader:
The elections results are a massive repudiation of McConnell and the Republican congressional leadership, which aggressively supported Grayson. Coming on the heels of Senator Robert Bennett's defeat in Utah and the Republican Senatorial Committee's previous support for Charlie Crist in Florida, it is clear that many Washington, D.C. GOP leaders are enormously out of touch with the base of the Republican Party, grassroots conservatives.
Conservative, libertarian, and constitutionalist grassroots activists, who have coalesced to form not one organization, but a collection of like-minded groups collectively called “The Tea Party,” have proved that motivated citizen activists can buck the political establishment and secure political victories for good candidates. But in doing so, they have taken their game plan — and many of their principles — largely from the action plans formulated over the past 51 years by the grandaddy of all antiestablishment, constitutionalist action groups — The John Birch Society.
In so doing, the Tea Party groups may eventually outdistance their level of understanding and require greater education in how to defeat the well-entrenched collectivist establishment they seek to depose. For that reason, those working to educate the voter base and send more Rand Pauls and Ron Pauls to Congress — and support them once elected — must learn all they can learn from the experienced JBS activists, because there simply is not enough time left in the freedom fight to reinvent the wheel.
Photo: AP Images
Warren Mass is editor of the Bulletin of The John Birch Society.