by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Rich Lowry of National Review urges Republican officials to avoid a key mistake their Democratic counterparts committed nearly a decade ago.
The partisan temptation in this circumstance is always to dismiss the passion of the other side, which is what Democrats did to their detriment in 2009 and Republicans are doing now.
It’s not often that White House press secretary Sean Spicer sounds like his Obama predecessor Robert Gibbs, but on this, he might as well be reading leftover talking points. Gibbs dismissed the Tea Party’s town-hall agitation eight years ago as “manufactured anger” reflecting “the Astro-turf nature of grassroots lobbying.” Spicer says of the town-hall protests, “It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades — the Tea Party was a very organic movement — this has become a very paid, Astro-turf-type movement.”
What was true in 2009 is true today: In the normal course of things, it’s not easy even for a well-funded and -organized group to get people to spend an evening at a school auditorium hooting at their congressman. If these demonstrations are happening in districts around the country, attention must be paid.
This is not to condone the more rancid elements of the Left’s ferment (blocking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from entering a Washington, D.C., school was petty thuggishness), nor is it to consider what is happening as nearly as significant as the Tea Party — yet.
To become the Left’s equivalent of the Tea Party, the protestors will have to persist despite the inevitable legislative defeats on the horizon; organize at the grass-roots level; play in Democratic primaries; make their own party’s establishment miserable; and pick off a significant Republican seat in what seems like impossible territory, the way Scott Brown did in the Massachusetts special election after the death of Ted Kennedy.
None of this is certain, or necessarily likely. But Democrats deluded themselves in 2009 by disregarding the early signs of fierce resistance to their agenda, and paid the price over and over again for their heedless high-handedness. Republicans shouldn’t make the same mistake.