Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association and making his way onto the list of 2012 presidential contenders, touts the Tea Party–GOP big tent:
On the issues foremost in voters’ minds—the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits—the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.
That is why it was tremendously important for Republican prospects in the 2010 elections that tea partiers did not run as independents or third-party candidates. To do so would have split the votes of those who know the Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies don’t work and are hurting our economy.
Every Republican should be pleased that these tea party candidates chose to run in our primaries. In the vast majority of cases, their participation was welcomed, even cultivated, by GOP leaders—and rightly so.
In other words, there may be differences in tone and style, and not all Tea Party candidates are ready for prime time, but the Republican Party has sidestepped the fissure that the chattering class promised was coming. Barbour is also canny enough to tell Beltway Republicans to butt out of primaries — and Lisa Murkowski not to let the door hit her on the way out of the Senate leadership team. (“We have no right whatsoever to substitute our will or judgment for that of the voters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary in Alaska to Joe Miller. Now she’s launched a write-in campaign to get re-elected. There is no excuse for this campaign, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right to demand her resignation from the GOP leadership.”)
Barbour is not so subtly making the point that it is not in the interests of either establishment GOP figures or the Tea Parties (or members of the former seeking to ingratiate themselves with the latter) to play up the media-created antagonism between the two groups. In fact, the two groups are overlapping — many Tea Partiers are Republicans, the movement’s darling was the VP nominee in 2008, and its greatest salesmen are well-known conservative politicians and media figures.
Barbour has been an uber-competent governor, a successful leader of the RGA, and a savvy analyst of the GOP’s travails and resurgence. Whether he finally decides to run for president and can prove successful remains to be seen. But he’s not doing himself any harm with commonsense calls for unity and a firm restatement of conservatives’ agenda (“creating jobs instead of more massive government, controlling spending and not raising taxes, and delaying and then repealing ObamaCare”).