01/06/2011 01:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How the Tea Party Could Succeed

Many politicians, especially novice ones, are narcissistic at some level. They take office in "waves," "storms," or as part of "historic take overs" and tend to view themselves, and their entire spectrum of policies, as brilliant package deals. The last thing a newly elected Representative wants to hear is that they weren't elected for their leadership or legislative acumen, but merely as a symbolic mandate against someone else or against a single policy. The incoming Republican Congress however, with its Tea Party fueled newbies and old hands who wish they were, finds itself in exactly this position.

Let me be clear, I'm not a Republican and I don't work for or advise the GOP. I do have a fondness for politics however, and those of us who love the game tend follow it no matter who's playing or what the score. It is in this spirit of political curiosity that I pose a question if only for the sake of discussion: How can newly-empowered House Republicans give themselves the best chance of success at doing what their constituents elected them to do over the next two years and possibly beyond? My friendly advice to incoming Republicans, Tea Party members included, is simple: Know thy mandate.

The GOP takeover on November 2 was driven by two numbers, the unemployment rate and GDP growth. Say what you will about the colonial hat and tea bag crowd, but the difficult economic conditions that exist for most Americans lie at the core of their anger. Even more telling, and less easy for those of us on the left to dismiss, is the simple math that it was moderates and independents who won the House for the Republicans and not right wing Tea Party "nut jobs." In short, for right or wrong, a hefty chunk of Americans aren't confident about the state of the economy and feel that Democrats at best haven't delivered, and at worst, have actually impeded the economic recovery.

Republicans took back the House and gained seats in the Senate because enough Americans felt the need for a change of direction on economic policy and Federal budgetary issues. That's it, that's all, nothing more. If the incoming Republicans and their leadership are smart, they'll realize that they were elected primarily to legislate on domestic economic and budget issues, and won't attempt to view their election as a mandate to focus on the wider spectrum of conservative political points.

The 2010 Midterms were not, for example, a mandate to begin meddling in curatorial decisions at Smithsonian art galleries like Rep. Boehner and Rep. Cantor. The GOP gains were not powered by a public yearning for a new conservative push on culture war issues like gay rights, abortion and gun control. No one cares about prayer in schools if they don't have a job, and one does need an income to pay for those NRA gift memberships. In truth, the majority of Americans who voted Republican this fall want economic conservatives, not social ones.

As long as the 9.8% unemployment rate and 14 trillion dollar debt remain, there will be room for legitimate economic and budgetary policy debates between the left and right. Republicans face two political choices, either discipline themselves to focus like lasers on the economic policy issues their constituents sent them to Washington for in the first place, or allow themselves to be side-tracked by antiquated conservative culture warriors and the occasional Ron Paul economist, who will eventually overreach. If Boehner and Co. want any hope of giving the phrase "Republican leadership" meaning in the eyes of voters, they'll tell the Glenn Beck, angry senior citizen wing of the GOP to put away the birth certificates and at least try to put people back to work.