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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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Columns As I See It

Outsiders, tea partiers all part of big tent

August 4th, 2014 1:53 pm by Robert Houk

Outsiders, tea partiers all part of big tent

“Do you think Lamar is in trouble?” I’ve been asked that question several times in recent weeks in regards to Lamar Alexander and his bid to be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in November

The state’s senior senator is certainly campaigning like a man who is taking nothing for granted. His ads have saturated the TV and the Internet.

I don’t think Alexander is in trouble. The (Nashville) Tennessean reported last week of an internal Alexander campaign poll that has the incumbent almost 30 points ahead of his closest challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr, R- Lascassas. Carr — who has been endorsed by tea party groups across the state, including the one in our area — says Alexander is not conservative enough to suit him and others who believe you can never go too far to the right.

You know the kind of candidate I’m talking about:

“My opponent says he supports open gun carry. Who doesn’t? I advocate required carry. If you aren’t packing, don’t whine to the police when you are mugged!”

Alexander’s critics can call him a RINO if they wish, but for nearly 40 years, he has been one of the standard- bearers of the Republican Party in Tennessee. He has not left the party — of the late Howard Baker Jr. — it’s elements of the GOP who have abandoned the party.

They have left to follow orators, not policymakers.

Alexander said as much himself in a story that appeared last week in the Washington Post.

He told the newspaper that the real struggle within the Republican Party is not between moderates and conservatives, but instead “between conservatives who think their job is finished when they make a speech and conservatives who want to govern.”

Although he’s not a great orator, Carr does know how to push all the buttons to get tea partiers ginned up. But it’s not just tea partiers who support candidates like Carr. Social conservatives who are horrified by gay marriage, pro-lifers and Second Amendment fans are also in his camp.

When you stop to think of it, that’s really a big, rag-tag tent. And it’s generally pitched by populist candidates, which is why politicians like state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, are so hard to unseat. Hill’s base includes all the above-mentioned factions, as well as an assorted mix of Democrats and libertarians who feel disfranchised by the “establishment,” political opportunists who are looking to feed off the government trough and political outsiders with a near pathological desire to see government crippled.

(This is also the coalition that supported a certain former Johnson City commissioner, whose name We Dare Not Mention.)

It should be no surprise then that these folks get extremely angry when they hear of an “invitation only” GOP shindig thrown by the establishment that excludes their populist lawmakers. It simply reinforces their idea that all politics are “us” against “them.”

And they’re right. Not inviting Boss Hill and his pals to the party may be rude, but it’s par for the course these days.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at Like him on Facebook: JCPressRobertHouk. Follow him at

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