09/01/2010 03:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

2012: The Memo for Winning for Both Parties (for now)

We are lost. We are lost as a nation.

I recently took a flight filled to the brink with Tea Party activists from all regions of the United States. The flight was connecting in Chicago. Everyone was heading back from the Glenn Beck rally in Washington, D.C. this previous weekend.

Fellow passengers made several outlandish points that made no sense to me, but this is beside the point. My passion for politics is rooted in a deep belief in an open forum for everyone in the (free) United States to state their opinions, no matter what their respective opinions may be. After all, speaking and listening is the only way we learn. And, what is to say that our own opinions are always correct?

However, what is paramount is this: I cannot speak for others, but I fear that many Democrats and Republicans who are not joining the Tea Party bandwagon are underestimating the power of this movement; although entirely different in party and demography - similar to the pre-2008 election Obama movement - the Tea Party movement is palpable too.

And don't be fooled: it is much more than a movement for fiscal responsibility: look at the Glenn Beck rally itself. The movement incorporates religious and social aspects. In doing so, it moves away from one clearly delineated political issue and charters into more politically treacherous territory.

So, the real question is: what does this mean for fellow Republicans who are reluctant or even unwilling to join the movement and also for Democrats?

For other Republicans, the answer is seemingly simpler and it lies in fractionalization: the party risks of being in grave danger of fractionalization in 2012 if the current trend continues. However, fear not, parties have histories of losing themselves, splintering, and finding themselves again. Remember when everyone thought the Democrats were goners for a time during the Bush years? Well, they returned. And at one point during those years, they seemed more divided than ever (Hillary vs. Obama).

Politics, when it comes to parties in power, is like a pendulum, often dictated by current events, the mood of the American population and electorate, and more recently, the media. However, this really isn't a Hillary vs. Obama situation. Remember those polls taken? If one had lost, many of the others, while so impassioned, would have been happy with the other. Just guessing, but I don't think many of these Tea Party activists would be happy with a liberal Republican who embraces, let's just say, civil unions for example (or one who is pro-choice). Now this presents a problem for the party and ultimately, probably a crash-and-burn scenario in 2012.

But the problem with the Democrats is not much better than the one for the fractionalized Republicans; where is their base now? Are they as liberal ("progressive") as some in leadership positions? Or do they need to shift back to the Clintonian moderate base of the 1990s?

So here are my two suggestions as the midterms rapidly approach and moving into 2012:

1. The Democrats should remember the New Democrat phrase of "opportunity, community, and responsibility" of the 1990s and return to their centrist base. And after all, "it's the economy, stupid" (Thank you, Mr. Carville.)

2. Republicans should not dismiss the power of the Tea Party movement, especially former Governor Palin. She is a force within her right and should not be underestimated. But I truly do not believe that the Tea Party is nationally electable. In certain states, as we are seeing, yes, but not nationally. What the national party needs to do is sit down and embrace certain elements of the Tea Party and certain pieces of its more liberal members. In 2008, the Republicans need to embrace social values that do not shut the door on the minorities of America. If the Republican Party cannot unify, they are likely looking at a crash-and-burn scenario in 2012.

Final point: Mandates. It is way too early to tell, but if everyone goes along as follows, 2012 could be a year for Republicans to win. Of course, this does not take into account a plethora of different scenarios, including an economic rebound (good for the Democrats); the outcome of the midterms; President Obama's approval ratings; administration changes; and so on. A divided Republican Party will be at a significant disadvantage if it cannot find its base. The Democratic Party, no matter what, may be floundering, but ultimately has its leader. Intraparty struggle, with an impalpable movement can in fact win (refer back to Obama, 2008). But that is because, for the most part, in the end, the mantra was change. In 2012, that mantra simply won't fly.

Thus, overall, this is about President Obama showing strong, centrist leadership. Confidence is key. Maybe even some shifts in administration positions are wise, post-midterms. To me, everyone is calling him a one-termer. I wouldn't be so sure just yet. Overall, let's take all of this one day at a time. Politics is like chess. Move your bishop. I'll move my horse.

David Helfenbein has also posted this blog posting on his site,, under his blog, The Bean Blog.