The battle for GOP Conference Chair in the House of Representatives is heating up. Now that Republicans have won majority in the House, the decision of who should fill the leadership positions is being worked out among House Republican members. The Conference Chair position is the fourth-highest seat and is being contested by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
The Republican midterm victories have largely been attributed to the wave of Tea Party enthusiasm only two years after President Obama’s win. The passage of Obama’s first Stimulus Bill in February of 2009 even prompted Newsweek Magazine to claim “We Are All Socialists Now,” which makes the rise of Tea Party momentum in such a short timeframe so shocking. The Republicans went from being an “Endangered Species,” according to Time Magazine in May of 2009, to winning back the House with historic numbers 18 months later.
The original intent of the Tea Party was to restore conservative values. Republicans had left fiscal conservatism years ago and the Democrat majorities of 2008 ushered in an era of tremendous spending by Congress. Seeing that both parties had abandoned them, fiscal conservatives rallied together to promote a return to economic responsibility.
From there , the movement ballooned into a general critique of “big government” policies of both Republicans and Democrats. The Tea Party is changing American conservatism by restoring it to its roots. Rather than redefining it, the Tea Party movement has successfully held politicians, especially Republicans, accountable to the traditional conservatism they claim to espouse. In fact, the Tea Party successes have often been in removing entrenched establishment GOP members who have not supported traditional conservative values. In that way, it stands against Republicans and balks at blind loyalty to the party. The American conservative movement has been re-energized by the Tea Party passion, and this energy is good for those who are true fiscal conservatives.
Bachmann has been one of the many leaders of the Tea Party movement and has been a critic of Obama’s economic plans, which has engendered her support from Tea Party members. She is one of the signers of the grassroots “Contract From America,” which details 10 proposals to promote “individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom.”
Hensarling , her opponent for Conference Chair, has not signed the Contract and is supported by more traditional GOP leadership members like Eric Cantor and Mike Pence. While Hensarling isn’t as outspoken as Bachmann has been, he does have a conservative voting record behind him. In particular, his voting on fiscal issues, a major concern of the Tea Party, is actually more conservative than Bachmann’s in regard to voting against earmarks.
This contest between Bachmann and Hensarling will be a small test of whether or not the Tea Party movement is serious about its core values. While a win for Bachmann would be an obvious mark of Tea Party clout because of her affiliation with them, Hensarling winning might actually show the Tea Party is more serious about policy above all else. Either way, the fact that two very fiscally conservative Republicans are vying for a leadership position in Congress is an example of how deeply the Tea Party has revitalized American conservatism.