Tea Party becomes natural Republican constituent group

Doyle McManus:

The "tea party" movement is rapidly becoming just another faction of the national Republican Party.

Originally a grass-roots expression of anger at both parties, tea party groups eyed Democrats and Republicans with suspicion. And the parties were skeptical of the tea party too.

But in recent months, the GOP's natural election-year appetite for voters, campaign volunteers and donors has caused the Republicans to take a more welcoming approach, and the tea partyers have responded.

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the Sarah Palin of the House, formed an official Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill. Within three days, 42 members of Congress had signed up, all conservative Republicans.

The group won an almost-instant blessing from House Republican leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who described his own experiences at tea party rallies with near-religious enthusiasm.

"Last Labor Day weekend, there were 18,000 people about a mile from my home — 18,000 people!" Boehner told reporters over lunch last week.

"These folks are the tip of an iceberg," Boehner went on. "We should listen to them, we should work with them and we should walk amongst them."

In a midterm election year, when turnout is hard to drum up, it's easy to see why Republicans are eager to harness the tea party zeal. Just 18 months ago, the GOP was flat on its back. In some polls, fewer than 25% of voters admitted to being Republicans.

For the GOP, the tea party isn't just a potential source of new voters and campaign volunteers; it's a vehicle for rebranding and redemption. Before the tea party, the GOP was a tired old political organization, financed largely by business lobbyists, that voted repeatedly for deficit spending. Now, to hear Boehner and his lieutenants describe it, the Republican Party is the fully reformed instrument of a virtuous grass-roots anti-deficit movement.

That transformation has required something of a Faustian bargain. In Nevada and Kentucky, tea party activists helped hard-right conservatives in Republican Senate primaries defeat candidates the party's establishment considered more likely to win in November's general election. But that unhappiness is forgotten now, at least officially.

At this point, the tea party agenda (to the extent the amorphous coalition has one) and the official Republican Party agenda have largely merged.

Tea party activists say they're angry about federal spending, the deficit, the growth of federal government power and President Obama's healthcare plan. Republican leaders, as they outline their pitch for November's election, say pretty much the same things.

For Republicans who want to broaden their party's appeal, the good news is that tea party activists are concerned mostly about fiscal issues, not the social and religious issues that drove some independents away from the GOP in earlier days.

The bad news is that they rank unemployment well below the deficit on their list of concerns — the opposite of most voters. Tea party candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky have both derided the unemployed as victims of their own laziness, a position that doesn't play well beyond the Ayn Rand right.
There is more.

This is a more accurate presentation of the Tea Party than that presented by liberals of late who have tried to attack the group as racist, bigots and homophobes, which is the typical liberal response to conservatives who oppose their agenda.  These attacks have gotten the group off message of late and they need to be planning rallies to get back on message as pushing for deficit reduction and repeal of the health care monstrosity that is opposed by a majority of Americans.

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