Are grassroots conservatives simply being co-opted by the Republican Party? 

A Tea Party Caucus?

When U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky said that, if elected, he would join forces with Tea Party-minded senators like Jim DeMint and current senate candidates like Mike Lee of Utah and Sharron Angle of Nevada, Trent Lott of Mississippi told The Washington Post, "We don't need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples." The former Senate majority leader added, "As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them."

You have to give Lott credit for his honesty. The long-established process of becoming a respected Republican on Capitol Hill is for a politician to mouth conservative rhetoric in order to get elected and then, once elected, support every piece of big-government legislation favored by the GOP.

This scenario describes Lott's entire career. As such, it should be no surprise that he now works as a Capitol Hill lobbyist. Lott's brand of Republicanism reached new heights during the George W. Bush years and survives today as the rump of the Republican Party, whose members still offer no apologies for the anti-conservative behavior in their past.

When Tea Partiers go after Republicans like Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah or give Sen. Lindsey Graham holy hell at a town hall, mainstream pundits call the movement too "extreme," scratch their heads, and ask, "But aren't these 'conservative Republicans?'" The answer is no. They never were, and this is a truth grassroots conservatives finally seem to be waking up to.

When Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota announced she was forming a Tea Party Caucus in the House last week, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was asked if he was a member, to which he replied with his best Sarah Palin impression, "You betcha!" But what kind of conservative, exactly, is Pence? And for that matter, what kind of conservatives are Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) or Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). All three are already associated, either implicitly or explicitly, with the Tea Party Caucus?

Libertarian guru Lew Rockwell makes a good point: "Thanks to MSNBC's Chris Matthews [last week], I was able to see the predators John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, and Mike Pence refuse to say what they would cut from the federal budget. They blabbed, but refused to name one program to diminish. That is because the Republicans are as bad as the Democrats; they want a massive state to control and loot for them, too. They no more believe in smaller government than the non-NASA man in the moon. In power, the Republicans have always been terrible."

And indeed they have. Is Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus a genuine manifestation of the Tea Party movement's power and influence, something that could possibly bear conservative fruit? Or is it an attempt to do what Lott said must be done to any honest conservative who dares step foot on Capitol Hill. On one hand, Bachmann's group forces Republicans who like to talk a good Tea Party game to explicitly endorse the movement, which could prove a testament to their conservative seriousness. On the other hand, men like Pence, Sessions, and Cornyn could simply be just like Trent Lott, eager to court voters using the right-wing language of their day, but not so eager to carry out an actual conservative agenda.

As late as 1996, a moderate GOP presidential candidate like Bob Dole openly called for the abolishment of the Department of Education at every campaign stop, something that was also a part of the official Republican platform. Today, supposedly conservative Republicans like Pence, Sessions, and Cornyn cannot even come up with a single thing they would cut out of the federal budget while appearing on a liberal talk show. Is Chris Matthews that intimidating? Or are such "conservatives" not that serious about conservatism?

It is worth noting that although Rand Paul came up with the idea of a Tea Party Caucus, his father, Congressman Ron Paul, the most serious conservative on Capitol Hill, has yet to join Bachmann's group.

The effectiveness of the Tea Party is due in large part to the fact that it is not a creation of Washington, and its success might be gauged by how well its true supporters make inroads into the belly of the GOP beast. Only time will tell.

Bachmann's caucus could very well be a healthy and necessary reflection of the movement's success, or it could be an example of the Republican Party successfully co-opting another conservative movement. Conservatives should always welcome any and all new allies and possibilities. They should also remain vigilant.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.

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