Columnist Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner, who has a strong following among conservatives, has followed the “K Street Republicans vs. Tea Party” for several years and wrote again about the conflict last week. And Carney identifies some of the practical points of conflict between the two groups: “The GOP establishment rallies industry donors behind the Republican seen as stronger in November. A deeper reason: The revolving-door clique of K Street and Capitol Hill operatives needs Republicans elected to upper chamber who are likely to play ball.”
That’s all true, but it’s not complete. Industry-side Republicans just see the world differently than people like me and Tea Party allies, such as Judson Phillips or Jenny Beth Martin, who lead and populate the grassroots Tea Party groups, or Rob Natelson and Randy Barnett, who write about the constitutional bases for rolling back Obamacare and limiting the size of the federal government. The pro-Wall Street or U.S. Chamber types, such as the Koch brothers’ groups and lobbyists, don’t really see the imperative to radically reduce the size and scope of the mechanisms created over the past 50 years to regulate the everyday activities of the American people. They would be perfectly satisfied if the EPA, CPSC, and FDA were forever oriented to be pro-business. They don’t care about the historical or constitutional arguments by the Founding Fathers for the right to a civil jury trial. That side of the Republican Party “talks the talk” of limited government but actually fights for federal pre-emption of state laws and courtrooms in almost every aspect of commerce, from products liability law to medical malpractice lawsuits to financial services regulation. That’s the difference I see. I’m as pro-business as any of the Kochs towards taxes (too high), overt federal regulation that kills job creation (too much), Obamacare (the worst) and so on. We just fundamentally see the role of the civil jury trial and state courtrooms very differently. The Seventh and Tenth Amendments never enter into their discussions. That’s why they argue for H.R. 5, a federal medical malpractice bill, with no citation to any recent constitutional scholarship, while I can point to the writings of numerous respected scholars and like-minded Republicans who know that bill is unconstitutional.
And not all politicians or groups who proclaim themselves as “Tea Party” are really Tea Partiers. The Club for Growth, one such “Tea Party group” named in the Carney article, has asked prospective candidates for their views on federal tort reform and, I assume is for that concept, regardless of its unconstitutionality. Numerous Republican politicians who pass themselves off as “Tea Partiers” or “constitutional conservatives,” starting with many Congressional Republican leaders, are pro-federal tort reform in order to bash trial lawyers and collect campaign contributions from business. It’s an old habit that dies hard.
Fortunately a growing number of Republican politicians, at all levels of government, are recognizing the reality that federal power isn’t unlimited and all ten amendments in the Bill of Rights are worth protecting in law. I’ve personally seen a number of Republican politicians take a step back from the tort reform agenda and re-evaluate their position upon reading statements by experts they admire, such as Randy Barnett or Sens. Coburn and Lee. The mission for those of us seeking constitutional consistency inside the Republican Party is to persevere, support and convert those open to rational discussion, and recruit candidates to support limited government and constitutional rights before they become committed otherwise. And we have to differentiate between the phony and the real constitutional conservatives.