Opinion: As Tea Party Stands on Principles over Debt, 2012 Candidates Watch and Learn

The debt-ceiling impasse in Congress is remarkable mostly because the Tea Party conservative freshmen seated after the last election are actually holding fast with their promise to curtail government spending.

The old politics would involve making promises to voters and then selling out to the party establishment on Capitol Hill. That was called politics.

The Tea Party representatives seem to be operating on the basis of a different philosophy, which is called "standing on principle." This has never been tried before in Washington D.C. No wonder its giving ulcers to the old guard and also to the mainstream media, which has gone into hysteria.

I don't care of you disagree or approve of the principle they are promoting of "cut government spending" and "hold back the pressure - more sandbags on the dam holding back the national debt!" You've got to give them credit for living up to the promises they made to their constituents.

The Democrats who got pounded by voters in 2010 are in shock (and awe) and want to argue that the GOP fledglings are wrong and dangerous. They may win this argument yet but not for another year when and IF the Tea Party contingent gets voted out of office or decide, as many of them have pledged, not to run for reelection (because they are not "professional politicians.")

The implications of all this for "Election 2012" are obviously profound.

The confrontation over the size of government is having a massive influence on the GOP presidential candidate selection process. As a I see it here in Iowa and in New Hampshire as well (I also have a home and spend part of the year in the Granite State) only a fiscal conservative and maybe even only a contender who stands by the Tea Party position on fiscal and monetary policy can win the nomination.

Then the great unknown is whether down the ticket fiscal conservatives will reconnect with the voters as they did in 2010 and take over even more governorships, state houses, and of course, retain control of the House and maybe even seize the U.S. Senate.

We thought for a while that this political season was going to be about illegal immigration, gay marriage and abortion. If the trend continues it will be about complex economic theory (will a debt default really crash the economy?) and complex entitlement politics (will the older voters who supported the Tea bag group bolt when THEIR Medicare and Social Security are slashed?)

The struggle over raising the debt ceiling is about much more! It's about the “Meta” direction of American politics for the next decade.

More profoundly, it's also about whether you can believe the promises politicians make on Election Day. Like it or not the tea baggers have come through on their promises. Not “a chicken in every pot” but “no federal government chickens in any pot!” *

So listen to the GOP Presidential candidates and remember that if elected they too may deliver what they promised in their campaign.

* From the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library – “The link between Hoover and the phrase "a chicken in every pot" can be traced to a paid advertisement which apparently originated with the Republican National Committee, who inserted it into a number of newspapers during the 1928 campaign. The ad described in detail how the Republican administrations of Harding and Coolidge had "reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, put the proverbial 'chicken in every pot.' And a car in every backyard, to boot." The ad concluded that a vote for Hoover would be a vote for continued prosperity.”

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, writes and blogs for the Des Moines Register and WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country,” and is chief political correspondent for Insideriowa.com.