On Thursday, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) made news with his decision to remain independent of Rep. Michelle Bachmann's (R-MN) tea party caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives .
Rep. Cantor, who is the Republican Whip and second ranking Republican in the House, commented on his decision by noting:
"Part of what is so inspiring about the Tea-Party movement is that it is not structured like a political party and, instead, is a truly organic, grass-roots effort. The movement was born outside of Washington and includes people of all political stripes -- Republicans, independents, and Democrats -- who have come together out of frustration with their government in an effort to force it to change . . . .The millions of Americans who are part of the Tea-Party movement will no doubt have a major voice this fall when the bad policies of the past two years come up for review."
The Richmond Times-Dispatch concurred with Rep. Cantor's decision in their Friday editorial:
Although the Tea Party clearly stands closer to the GOP's professed principles, the movement should be wary of becoming a faction within a single party. If the Tea Party identifies with the Republican Party, then it could sacrifice support from disaffected Democrats and independents. (The Tea Party's appeal to Democrats seems negligible, to tell the truth; among GOP-leaning independents the movement's appeal appears strong. The Tea Party itself resembles a 2010 update of Ross Perot's 1992 campaign.)
There are others who have cautioned that the tea party movement should remain independent including Karl Rove, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush. While many may consider him just a GOP political hack, Rove had some thoughts about this very subject in February when he wrote:
There has been a lot of talk about combining the tea party movement with the Republican Party. And on a small scale, that seemed to happen last week in South Carolina after state GOP representatives agreed to create a "Tea Party Republicans" group to coordinate activities with tea partiers in Greenville and Spartanburg.
This week, however, those arrangements fell apart as some tea party groups dissented from the decision. Other attempts to draw tea party groups into formal alliances are running into similar difficulties. That is a good thing. The tea party movement will be more effective than it otherwise would be if it refuses to allow itself to become an appendage of either major political party.
The tea party movement appears to primarily be a fiscally concerned group of citizens who are worried about the deep debt our country faces in light of controversial legislation that has been spearheaded by Democratic President Barack Obama and passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. That concern encompasses Democrats, Independents, Constitution Party, Green Party, Ron Paul supporters, and others upset with massive spending and taxes involved with cap-and-trade, bank bailouts, the stimulus bill, auto company bailouts, and the mammoth government health care bill.
In other words, the tea party is not made up of just Republicans or social conservatives. The common denominator for all is fiscal conservatism. Beyond that, there are significant differences. Some within the ranks are unfortunately a few 9/11 "truthers," "birthers," and those calling for states to secede from the U.S.
While some may be upset with Rep. Cantor for not joining forces with the tea party, there are many others who will agree with his decision. He is a leader in the Republican Party, not the tea party, something the Times-Dispatch also noted:
Institutional issues also argue in favor of Cantor's position. As the GOP's whip (and its majority leader if the party wins a majority in November), he must not be seen as part of any ideological faction. His viability and success depend on his ability to forge close relations with Republicans of diverse philosophical inclinations. There is nothing wrong with joining caucuses based on geography or interest, but Cantor would court difficulties if he formally aligned himself with a movement that has challenged GOP incumbents in primaries.
Karl Rove, while advising that tea parties should remain independent of political parties, also touched on the issue of Republicans trying to become part of the tea party:
The GOP is also better off if it forgoes any attempt to merge with the tea party movement. The GOP cannot possibly hope to control the dynamics of the highly decentralized galaxy of groups that make up the tea party movement. There will be troubling excesses and these will hurt Republicans if the party is formally associated with tea party groups.
Mr. Rove had a final suggestion for both the GOP and the tea parties as he concluded:
The Republican Party and the tea party movement have many common interests right now. But they are, and should remain, distinct from one another. This is one instance when, if they merged, the sum would be less than the parts.
The Times-Dispatch agreed. "Cantor," they wrote, " ... has made the prudent call.”