Want to kill the Tea Party? Vote in primaries

The key to restoring sanity to the Republican Party lies in turning out all Republican voters during primary season

Tea partiers
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A house divided cannot stand. And these days, the Tea Party is dividing — no, holding hostage — the Republican Party in ways that ensure Democrats will continue to hold the majority of political power in the United States well into the future.

This must stop. And that begins by imposing party discipline on those who feel that their own personal political agenda is more important than the broader conservative platform that a united GOP might actually be able to further.

Consider Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a freshman GOP congressman from Oklahoma who figured it would be a good idea to rip the speaker of the House — the most visible leader in the Republican Party — for being insufficiently devoted to conservative principles. And this before Speaker Boehner had taken any action at all.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"My concern, and I think the concern of a lot of Republicans in Congress, is that once the sequester takes effect, people are going to be screaming for a deal, and that deal ultimately is going to be what the president wants — to raise taxes," Bridenstine said. "And if there's enough pressure, [Boehner] will bring it to the floor and 200 Democrats and 30 or 40 Republicans will vote for it. And once again you have the speaker caucusing with the Democrats."

For an accomplished fellow, Rep. Bridenstine sure has poor judgment. By running his mouth, the freshman signaled very clearly to the president just how divided the GOP is, thereby weakening the speaker's bargaining position while simultaneously giving the president and congressional Democrats yet another quote to remind the American public that the Republican Party is full of intransigent imbeciles with no grasp of reality or of the basic concept of what it takes to govern a country.

The speaker, and any outside group that wants the Republican Party to survive as a competitive national party with broad appeal, must make Bridenstine understand that should he decide to make war on a member of his own party again, his own party will crush him with the fury of God's own thunder. It is one thing to vote no. It is quite another for a freshman to publicly challenge the speaker's loyalty and devotion to the conservative movement in the run-up to a major negotiation. Any member who does so should have his job dangled in front of him.

The problem, of course, is that Rep. Bridenstine answers to his electorate, and he won his primary precisely because he is, well, unreasonable and uncompromising. In a place like Oklahoma, congressional elections are really decided by who wins the primary, and primary voters hardly represent the entire breadth of the Republican electorate. People who turn out to vote in primaries are typically the most enthusiastic and the most extreme. This explains (in part) why the Tea Party has thrived even though most Republicans do not consider themselves Tea Partiers.

The key to restoring sanity to the Republican Party lies in turning out all Republican voters during primary season. Doing so will require a fundamental change in the way GOP advocacy groups spend money on elections. If Karl Rove's new group or the RNC truly want to retake the Republican Party and rescue conservatism, they should spend every dollar they have for the next few years achieving a single goal: Every single person who has ever considered themselves a Republican should vote in GOP primaries.

Increase primary turnout, and a dramatically different sounding and more lively Republican Party will blossom. Fail to do so and we can expect to be governed by the Barack Obamas of the world for far longer than this country can afford.

Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law and writes about U.S. politics and policy for TheWeek.com. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for Frum Forum/New Majority. Follow him on Twitter (@JGolinkin) and email him at jgolinkin@gmail.com.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Jeb Golinkin is an attorney from Houston, Texas. You can follow him on twitter @jgolinkin.