Tea Party activists have attracted attention worldwide for their impassioned demands for a smaller federal government but on foreign policy matters, party leaders are split by the classic American divide: interventionism versus isolationism.
The success of Tea Party candidates in the Republican primary elections is the latest indication this nascent political movement is evolving into a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming November general elections.
In Delaware, conservative activist Christine O’Donnell won a stunning victory on Tuesday over Mike Castle for the Senate primary.
Further north in New York State, Tea Party favourite Carl Paladino crushed former Representative Rick Lazio for the Republican nomination for governor.
“The people of Delaware have spoken,” O’Donnell told supporters at a victory rally on Tuesday. “No more politics as usual. The cause is restoring America.”
For Tea Party activists, “restoring America” means downsizing government spending. But according to research by the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based non-profit organisation, 80 percent of tea partiers say defence is a “very important” issue to them. The federal government spent 782 billion dollars on defence in 2009, or 23 percent of the overall budget.
Given the contradiction, Tea Party leaders are not surprisingly divided between isolationists and interventionists as has generally been the case in American politics.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, on the one side, has called for an isolationist approach based on fiscal restraint, arguing it is hypocritical to be frugal at home while spending lavishly on military bases overseas.
In Kentucky's GOP primary, Rand Paul crushed the establishment favourite Trey Grayson after he issued a statement promising to "oppose reckless 'nation building' or burdening our troops by making them the world's police force."
On the other side, there is Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential candidate and keynote speaker at the August “Restoring Honor” Tea Party rally. She has embraced the assertive foreign policy of George W. Bush, and argued against budget cuts for the military.
But as the recent Republican primaries have shown, the Tea Party and the Republican Party are uneasy bedfellows. After O’Donnell’s win in Delaware, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee sent a terse one-line message of congratulations.
Further complicating matters are the opinion of activists themselves. A Sam Adams Alliance survey found that 96.9 percent of Tea Party activists voted for George W. Bush in 2004. But by late summer 2010, only 50.7 percent affiliated themselves with the Republican Party.
Given that, it remains to be seen whether the Tea Party will shape up as a form of Bush-style pre-emptive foreign policy, or defence on a shoestring, or something in between.
Date created : 2010-09-15