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Most Americans fear big government, so why are conservatives compromising?

Wither the Tea Party?

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I'm no fan of big labor, and I'm certainly no fan of big business. I believe in the traditionally conservative axiom that the concentration of power, whether public or private, is always a recipe for mischief and disaster.

But, historically speaking, big labor and big business generally only cause problems when they are working in conjunction with big government. Ask South Carolinians how they feel about the President Barack Obama-appointed National Labor Relations Board and their outrageous dictums to Boeing. Ask any American — from Occupiers to Tea Partiers — what they think of AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and the government bailouts they received.

A majority of the American people continue to zero in on the primary culprit in these matters. According to CBS News, 64 percent of Americans "say that 'big government' is a bigger threat to the country than 'big business' or 'big labor.'" The network adds, "While nearly two-thirds say big government is the major threat, 26 percent name big business, according to the Gallup survey conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 1. Just 8 percent name big labor."

For all the noise the Occupy movement has made about the need for more government regulation, welfare, and God knows what else, a majority of Americans still remain in the anti-government, Tea Party camp. Even Democrats are more worried about big government than big business, or as CBS News explains: "While 'big government' is often cast as a conservative concern, 48 percent of Democrats named it the biggest threat, compared to 44 percent who said big business."

What the Tea Party represents is what a majority of Americans have always wanted — less spending, less government, and more liberty. And I do mean always. The report adds, "Since Gallup starting asking the question in 1965, Americans have typically named big government as the biggest threat; an all-time high of 65 percent named it as the biggest threat in 1999 and 2000."

Even though a majority of Americans fear big government, most Republicans have done little to nothing about it. The Tea Party represented a break from this. When the movement began as a protest of President George W. Bush's TARP bailouts, critics said that the conservative grassroots had become "extreme." Actually, it was the first time the conservative grassroots had become conservative. Many critics blamed right-wing talk radio for baiting the Tea Party, but it was actually the other way around, as the biggest names in conservative talk had long urged their listeners to fight alongside Bush and Karl Rove, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, to defeat the damn Democrats. But the Tea Party had little use for Bush, Rove, Boehner, and McConnell. In fact, many Tea Partiers believe the Republican establishment is their primary enemy. Simply being in the GOP is no longer sufficient enough cover.

This polling data is simply the latest reminder that the public will for less government has always been there. But I fear the Tea Party is losing what made it so effective by surrendering to the same old partisanship. The "anybody but Obama" narrative has slowly but surely pushed the Tea Party back toward the ineffective partisanship of old. Of course, this is not true of every Tea Partier, but it is true of a lot of them. If no excuse from TARP-supporting Republicans was good enough for the movement in 2009 and 2010, many in the conservative grassroots now flock to Republican candidates who openly supported TARP. Some Tea Partiers even make excuses for these candidates.

It is true that Barack Obama is arguably the worst president in American history. It is also true that Obama is simply the latest in a long line of big-government presidents, half or more of which have been Republicans. Why have there been so many big-government Republicans in the past? Because there was no movement to hold such Republicans' feet to the conservative fire. Simply being Republican and beating the Democrats was enough for most in the party. Many Tea Partiers now stress that "anyone" is better than Obama. This is an arguable point. But what is not arguable is that supporting just "anyone" will take the American Right back to the same big-government bipartisanship that inspired the Tea Party to act. Settling in the name of political expediency is the antithesis of what the Tea Party is about.

The Tea Party has been our nation's best shot of possibly achieving genuine conservative results in my lifetime, and I will remain a member of the movement as long as there is one. The American people really do want smaller and more limited government. And based on these polls, they always have. It would be a shame if those within the Tea Party destroyed the only popular movement capable of giving to them what they've always wanted — an end to big government.

Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

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