The End and the Beginning of the Tea Party

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Time’s Michael Scherer on the evolution of the tea party:

Back in 2010, the Tea Party, though diffuse, came to stand for something. It was a populist movement of fiscal conservatives angry at President Obama and upset at the institutional Republican Party….Enter the 2012 Republican primary season. Every one of the semi-declared candidates in the field want to claim a part of the Tea Party mantle as their own, and everyone has a slightly different definition of just what that mantle means. In the meantime, pretty much every candidate in the race has a reason to claim Tea Party support.

….In short, anyone and everyone is “Tea Party.” The term is open-sourced. And though it will continue to be used over the coming months as a short-hand for the populist, unsettled upsurge in the Republican Party, it will mean less and less. Barring a third party run, there is unlikely to be a single Tea Party candidate because most candidates will claim Tea Party support, and since Tea Partyers in Iowa will have a different set of self-defining traits that Tea Partyers in New Hampshire. Your Tea Party is not my Tea Party. His Tea Party is not her Tea Party. We are all Tea Party, and none of us are Tea Party, because Tea Party everywhere, and as a result, nowhere in particular.

Yes indeed. Or as I put it a few months before last year’s election:

The sheer size of the tea party movement may be as much a curse as a blessing. An insurgent movement can retain its vigor if it remains limited to true believers, but once it takes the reins of power, it has no choice but to offer a winning platform if it wants to keep its influence. The tea partiers are thus likely to be victims of their own success: When everyone’s a tea partier, then no one’s a tea partier.

….The tea party movement is likely to provide plenty of drama this November, but if the historical record is anything to go by, it won’t last long after that. As with the earlier incarnations, its core identity will slowly fade away and become grist for CNN retrospectives, while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that’s been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that’s been breeding for a long time.

The tea party is dead, and at the same time, the tea party will be with us forever. Doesn’t that just send a tingle up and down your spine?

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