The report this morning that Florida Rep. Allen West may face a Tea Party primary challenge reminded me of the chat West had with us up in the bloggers’ lounge at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, just before heading down to the main stage to deliver his keynote address.
There were two questions in particular in which West’s answers revealed why anyone considering a primary challenge might want to rethink that plan. The first had to do with libertarian politics, and showed that West’s voters knew exactly what they were getting when they voted for him:
Q: Where do you think libertarians fit in the Republican party?
West: When you study the Constitution, you understand what the founding fathers did. The Constitution puts us right in the center, OK. If you go too far to the left, that means great big government that is overarching. If you go too far to the right, you have too little government, you have anarchy. So I think what they did, they came up with a document that really does promote the liberty of the American people and the citizens, and restrain[s] the government. So I think that when you look at libertarians, I mean, you guys are just uber-conservatives on steroids.”
That was a dose of West’s trademark bluntness. But it also tells you that West, from the beginning, never considered himself primarily a champion of libertarian interests, nor was he in Congress to erase our federal government completely. Many in the media were stunned when West vocally supported the deal John Boehner struck to raise the debt limit. They shouldn’t have been surprised. And the voters who elected him shouldn’t have been, either.
Yet they are, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel: “Since West voted early this month to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling, activists from his tea party base are ‘shocked and disappointed,’ said Charles Robertson, co-founder of the Broward Tea Party.”
These activists are either feigning shock or they haven’t been listening to the man they elected.
The second question at CPAC came a few minutes later, and was exactly the type of answer West gives routinely to this sort of question:
Q: The mainstream media have been rather viciously attacking strong Republican women. After this keynote speech, do you expect the mainstream media to make you a particular target?
West: Where have you been?
He then proceeded to tick off a list of wacky conspiracy theories, false stories, and race-related attacks the left and the media began pushing the second he was sworn into office. He then continued: “You know, but what that is, that’s fear. And you never let a military guy know that you’re afraid of him, because I’ll just turn up the heat.”
It’s good advice, both for his Democratic opponents—who, according to the Sun-Sentinel, have been proclaiming West “the anti-Christ, as far as we’re concerned”—and for the tea party activists who are thinking of challenging West in a primary.
One more point to consider: The Tea Party needs its credibility to have an impact. The Florida Tea Party activists might want to ask themselves whether a conservative movement that organizes a primary challenge to Allen West hasn’t jumped the shark.