Our friend Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post with his latest “Worst Week in Washington.”
The Gadsden flag is flying at half-staff this past week.
The tea party – that plucky insurgent movement that, as recently as two years ago, began trying to reshape the Republican Party and politics more generally – finds itself flailing as 2012 draws to a close, buffeted by infighting, defeats and a broad struggle to find a second act…
The movement needs to decide whether it can survive as an outside force or whether it can become more aligned with the GOP without sacrificing the principles on which it was founded.
As evidence of the “Tea Party’s” dilemma, Cillizza cites the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint to run the Heritage Foundation, the reported decline of FreedomWorks under allegations of mismanagement, and the loss of committee assignments by certain freshmen members of Congress aligned with the movement. The establishment GOP is, fair to say, over them.
But weren’t they always? Top-down declarations of the “Tea Party’s” demise leave out something important–the fact that the “Tea Party” was never a top-down movement.
Now, it’s true that the “Tea Party” shares, in large part, its origin with the very same Republican strategists in Washington who are now declaring them out of style. Organizations like FreedomWorks provided critical back-end support for budding “Tea Party” and so-called “9.12” groups ahead of their zenith of influence in the 2010 elections. But the fact is, those strategists didn’t create the “Tea Party”–and now that it exists, they can’t kill it, at least not without severely harming their own future prospects. The biggest reason for this is that the “Tea Party” is the Republican base, but with a new self-identification that is not under control of the Party.
Because they have no central structure, you can’t say in a blanket way that “The Tea Party” has problems. You might be able to say that grassroots conservatism has problems, but that’s not the same thing–and the reality of that is far more threatening to the Republican Party as a viable political entity. It was necessary to create the “Tea Party” to provide a home for right-wing base voters who railed against perceived failings in both parties, but would surely vote Republican.
Today, the tail may no longer wag the dog, but the GOP establishment still needs their base.
So no, we can’t really agree that the “Tea Party” had the worst week. It may turn out to be the politicians who thought they could ever “control” an irrational and headless movement.