Could the “Tea Party” take over Congress?
Not hardly. First, there is no such thing as the Tea Party. It’s a fascinating gathering of libertarians, conservatives, and others just plain fed up with business as usual in Washington, and it has some prominent figureheads – Fox News broadcasters and political pot-stirrers Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who appeared together in Anchorage Saturday.
But come November, will there be a House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader with a “TP” after his or her name rather than a “D” or an “R”?
Definitely not. And yet, and yet…
The tea party movement is clearly having major impact on the midterm elections – putting a significant number of more conventional Republicans as well as Democrats into a cold sweat as they look over their shoulders at tea party-backed candidates with a real possibility of winning.
In fact, they already are. Sharron Angle in Nevada has Senate Majority Harry Reid scrambling for his political life. In a three-way race with tea party input, Senator Bob Bennett of Utah lost his Republican primary bid for a fourth term. Rand Paul beat establishment candidate Trey Grayson in the GOP Senate primary in Kentucky. And Sarah Palin-backed Joe Miller ousted incumbent Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Republican primary last month.
Delaware holds its Republican primary election this Tuesday. There, US Rep. Mike Castle – once expected to be a shoo-in for elevation to the US Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden – is in a tough fight with Christine O'Donnell, who has the blessing of Palin and other tea partyers.
If it’s a problem for both parties, Democrats see it as an opportunity.
“These are not your run-of-the-mill Republicans we’re talking about here,” a Democratic organizer working in a state with a contested Senate race told The Hill. “When you actually start telling voters what these candidates are about, it scares the hell out of them.”
That’s the official Democratic Party line too.
"It's no secret that for the past year, House Republicans and their candidates have all embraced the Tea Party and Right Wing fringe in order to win votes," Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "As a result, the Republican Party agenda has become the Tea Party agenda and vice versa.”
The GOP certainly doesn’t see it that way. It’s walking a tricky line between linking itself to major tea party positions (especially on taxes, government spending, and the recently-passed health care reform known derisively as “Obamacare”) and separating itself from the more toxic pronouncements by some in the tea party – on Social Security, for example. (Not to mention the offensive and sometimes racist signs insulting of President Obama seen at early tea party rallies.)
Here, the tea party may be helping the GOP as it grows into a more sophisticated, self-aware, media-savvy movement. Glenn Beck’s huge “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech did not have the elements and imagery many had found off-putting in the past.
At a recent rally for Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, tea partyers belted out a tune written for the occasion: "Look out Washington, D.C., 'cause we are on a roll and we're rocking across this country with a message to be told."
The singing may have been more earnest than polished. But the message was solid and as true as anything is in politics today.