Last Tuesday’s tea leaves -- Gazette.Net

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Any lessons from last Tuesday’s “off year” elections in New Jersey, Virginia and a host of small Maryland municipalities?

Thanks to his impressive victory in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie is the frontrunner for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. Pundits say he’s the perfect “crossover” moderate who can attract Democrats and independents because he won 32 percent of New Jersey’s Democrats, 21 percent of blacks, 57 percent of women and 51 percent of Latinos.

But Christie has two problems: first, he’s being set up by the national media with the same “I’ll call you in the morning” treatment John McCain got when he opposed George Bush in 2000. The media promoted McCain to undermine Bush but, in 2008, dropped McCain like a hot rock in favor of Barack Obama. Likewise, today’s media is using Christie to undermine the tea party, but in 2016 Chris Christie will wonder why all his gushing media buddies are lined up behind Hillary Clinton.

Christie’s second problem is the tea party, whom he must convince that he’s not a RINO (Republican in name only). That’s a tough sell even though Christie has pretty solid conservative credentials: vetoed gay marriage, cut taxes, stood up to employee unions, pro-life and so on. But he took a pass on Mitt Romney’s campaign, hasn’t helped conservative candidates elsewhere and buddied up with Obama after Hurricane Sandy.

Christie can never out-tea party Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who also covet the 2016 nomination. But only Christie has a credible chance of defeating Hillary. And that, in a nutshell, is the GOP’s conundrum.

The purpose of a political party is to win the election and run the government in accordance with its political philosophy. It’s a package deal: The party’s philosophy must inspire enough voters to win the election. Right now the GOP is in the midst of realigning its political philosophy so that it accommodates its tea party base while winning national elections.

Shifts in national events and passions shape political parties, not the other way around. Parties are the manifestation of changes in the popular will. When events cause a popular uprising significant enough to attract large numbers of voters, the political parties must absorb the movement before it morphs into a third political party.

The Whig party stood for industrialization but opposed Manifest Destiny, the Mexican War and Andrew Jackson. However, when slavery overshadowed expansion it split the Whigs and gave birth to the anti-slavery Republican Party and the Civil War.

Sidelined for decades after the Civil War, the Democrats finally regained control by forming an unholy alliance of northern workers, western farmers and southern segregationists, a deal that sold blacks down the river.

The 1960s social upheavals saw another realignment as southern whites became Republicans while the Democratic Party became the party of racial minorities (the last Democratic presidential candidate to win a white majority was LBJ in 1964).

Now the Republicans must accommodate those Americans upset by debt, dysfunction and moral decline (the tea party) by making their concerns the party’s top agenda items. Then, it must convince a national majority to agree.

It’s a tough task being made easier by the Democrats. The Obamacare debacle almost pulled out a victory for a Virginia gubernatorial candidate who had everything going against him. Also, last month, Kay Hagan, the North Carolina Dem swept into the U.S. Senate by Obama’s 2008 win, was ahead by double digits. Now she’s trailing her chief GOP rival by one point. The worse Obamacare grows, the more it looks like a 2014 game changer for Republicans whose slogan will be, “we told you so.”

Meanwhile, all’s quiet back in Maryland where voters returned the incumbents in Gaithersburg, Takoma Park, Bowie, Rockville, Annapolis, College Park, Frederick and so on. The big exception was the Annapolis mayor’s race where a Republican narrowly defeated the incumbent Democrat. In typical one-party think, the majority Democratic City Council considered legislation stripping the new mayor of all his powers but a voter backlash now has the council in hasty retreat.

Otherwise, not a blip on the radar. Looks like the 2010 elections all over again when the national tea party rebellion (“shellacking,” said Obama) swept the nation but bypassed Maryland. If there’s a voter rebellion brewing in Maryland you sure couldn’t tell it by last week’s elections.

But here’s a good sidebar: In 2005 the legislature passed a law that says no person can “willfully and knowingly influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls ... through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace” etc.

Two Ehrlich campaigners were tried and convicted for using fake election day robocalls telling blacks to stay home because Obama and O’Malley were safely re-elected. One of the campaigners actually went to jail.

Last week’s elections saw a host of similar “dirty tricks” including phony Frederick robocalls about a candidate’s “unpaid taxes,” Annapolis lawn signs in black neighborhoods falsely linking a candidate to the tea party and robocalls went out to Frederick voters giving them the wrong polling place addresses.

Is the state prosecutor investigating? Will anyone be charged, or tried or go to jail? Is the moon made of green cheese?

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette.

His past columns are available at His email address is