As has been said on here before: If you’re not on Twitter, you need to be. Nowhere is this point made more readily apparent than the way in which the Tea Party has utilized social media outlets like Twitter, to begin to reshape the Republican Party from the inside out.
After watching the Democrats’ sheer dominance over social media forums during the 2008 Presidential election, it is doubtful that anyone could have predicted the conservative base would supplant them so quickly.
But beginning with the midterm elections of 2010, conservatives have been on a path to claim outright dominance over the medium altogether in a way comparable to that of the Talk Radio industry. This effort is taking its toll not just on the Democrats, but also on entrenched Republicans who, in the eyes of the GOP base, have lost their way.
Conservatives have long been upset with the direction their party was headed. One need look no further than the last 5 Presidential candidates the party has put forward, each one more typical and predictable than the last. It tends to share more in common with a Royal line of succession, than a series of democratically elected candidates.
Every 4 years, the GOP and its party members knew who their next candidate would be before the primaries even began, and the people that made up the party’s base knew that there wasn’t much that could be done about it.
This past primary cycle changed that, and it forced this year’s “next-in-line” candidate into a primary fight that nearly cost him the nomination. A significant contributing factor of this was the centralized dissatisfaction with big government policies as represented by the Tea Party, and the use of Twitter to communicate this dissatisfaction to an increasingly broad audience. In the end, the establishment won out, and in the interest of defeating a President that no self-respecting conservative could bear to have in office for another 4 years, Romney will get the votes from the base. The same cannot be said for a number of hopelessly entrenched Republican members of Congress.
The recent ejection of Republican Senator Dick Lugar after 36 years in office in this week’s primary by Tea Party backed candidate, Richard Mourdock, is illustrative of the dissatisfaction that is running rampant among the conservative base. This, however, is hardly the only example. Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is also staring at the very real possibility of a similar fate in the coming weeks. Mia Love’s rapid ascension from relative obscurity, to successfully securing the nomination for Utah’s newly created 4th Congressional district rings with a similar tone. The battle between Ted Cruz and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for Texas Senate shows yet another struggle between the Republican establishment, and Tea Party grass roots.
These elections, which ordinarily would simply be state concerns, become national causes in part because of powerful new Tea Party organizations. For example, the Tea Party Express engages in national and regional bus tours raising awareness about, and money for, the candidates they support. Though tours like these don’t always get main stream media attention, they consistently generate significant buzz in the blogosphere and Twittersphere.
The Tea Party Express has over 16,000 Twitter followers, and the number is only rising. These connections create a substantial web of influence across the country, and significantly increase the organizations ability to get their message out to the people. Because of these internet and social media based connections, we are seeing more and more members of Congress facing significant challenges to seats they’ve held largely uncontested for decades.
The common theme here is not that we are seeing an emergence of a third party in American politics, but that a fundamental restructuring of the Republican party is under way. This restructuring is so powerful because it is being done in completely legitimate fashion, utilizing the political process as it was intended, and putting forth candidates for office who are more adequately aligned with conservative views.
A shift from within the core of a party doesn’t happen overnight, but make no mistake, it is happening. It is unlikely that every Tea Party backed candidate this cycle will win their bid for the Republican nomination, but the amount of success they’ve had thus far should send shivers down the spines of every sitting member of Congress.
Those members who are not up for reelection in 2012 should take notice of what’s happening, and then take a long look at their policies. Or don’t, and they too may find themselves in an unfamiliar position come nomination day. Operation Counterweight is in full swing, made possible by bloggers, Twitter, Facebook, and the people.