Federalists Washington and Adams controlled the presidency for the first twelve years of the new nation's life -- they disappeared after the decline of Adams; the presidency went to Democrats (formerly Democratic-Republicans) and Whigs until Republicans, under Lincoln (1860), assumed control.
Areas of dissent appeared over the last half of the 19th century. Splinter groups entered presidential contests: Abolitionists, Free Soilers, Greenbacks, Populists, Union Labor, Prohibitionists, National Democrats, and Socialists. Collectively, they drew as much as 11 percent of the popular vote.
Each splinter group had a heartfelt cause, but all of them needed a champion who could dignify their concerns and who could meld them into a unified political force that could successfully challenge the ruling class, which, at the time, was the Republican Party.
Enter Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, seeking a second term. Republicans said no to him -- they remained loyal to their 1908 winner, William H. Taft.
Roosevelt, not ready to retire, accepted the nomination of the new Progressive Party; he brought some dissident groups together; he championed the causes of most; he took their messages to the nation; he got 27 percent of the popular vote, more than enough to ruin the chances of Republicans.
Roosevelt unwittingly served as the blocking back for Woodrow Wilson (who won with 42 percent of the vote), a man whose distaste for the Constitution was well known, who lied when he took the presidential oath (to protect and defend the Constitution), who laid the groundwork for the Progressive Party of today (known as the Democratic Party), and who first introduced the idea of a "living constitution," which has contaminated legal decisions ever since..
Progressives in 1912 lacked three things to make them a political powerhouse: 1) Unity -- divided, dissidents were losers; 2) a major political party to embrace them; 3) an astute politician who could bring their messages attractively to the American people.
Under Roosevelt, they had the leader; some dissidents joined Progressives and improved unity, but they were still outside of the mainstream of politics -- neither Democrats nor Republicans adopted them.
Enter Woodrow Wilson. In 1916, he saw the 27 percent vote that Roosevelt got in the 1912 election running as a Progressive; he knew he couldn't win the presidency a second time with only 42 percent of the vote; he was politically savvy enough to reach out to Progressives, to make them welcome, and to convert the Democratic Party into the far left group it is today. He used their energy to attract new voters.
The result of his strategy? His own vote went up by seven points, more than enough to defeat his opponent, Charles Evan Hughes.
What is the relationship of the Tea Party to the presidential election history just summarized?
The election of 2010 demonstrated the power of the Tea Party (gains in the House and Senate). It was not solely responsible for this, but its contribution was huge, and it was done without a national leader. If the Tea Party were to run for the presidency as a separate group headed by its own nominee in 2016, it could draw more votes than the Progressive Party did in 1912, but not enough votes to win.
To succeed in 2014 and in 2016, the Tea Party should not run as a third party, which is what Roosevelt did in 1912; it must do what the Progressives did in 1916: Infiltrate and eventually take over a major political party -- in their case, the Republican Party.
In 2014 and 2016, Tea Party leaders must persuade establishment Republicans to join them in their effort to re-establish Constitutional government; it must run against and defeat RINO candidates, except in those cases where defeat of incumbents would result in Democratic wins (Republicans must win the Senate); it must support a charismatic leader as soon as possible (if this isn't done, Tea Party candidates will split conservative voters during the primaries and, McCain-like, a RINO will win the nomination).
What the Progressive Party did in the 1916 the Tea Party can do today. If not now, when? This is it -- America is through as a major player in the world if it does not have veto-proof control of the government by 2014 or, at the latest, 2016.
If the nation suffers a free-spending presidency much longer, debt will kill it, debt caused by politicians who bought votes with welfare programs that the nation could not afford.
Such a death is called suicide.
Robert Kelly, author of several books on baseball and history/politics, is also a freelance, award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in many newspapers. His latest books, The National Debt of the United States and Neck and Neck to the White House, are available at Amazon and the better bookstores. His e-mail address is [email protected]