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Does the future belong to the Tea Parties?

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David Brooks has an interesting column arguing that the Tea Parties are transforming themselves into a legitimate force in American life:


The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is now more popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea party movement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democrats and only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.

The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.



New York's conservative 23rd District, where a Tea Party candidate knocked out the Republican only to lose to the Democrat, suggests that this works much better in theory than in reality. Indeed, Democrats would be legitimately saved if the Tea Parties emerged as a movement in their own right, as the result would be a split in the non-Democrat vote. But Brooks is certainly right to emphasize the boundless disgust people have for Washington right now, and it's hard to say that they're actually wrong about it.

On the other hand, there's something boringly predictable about all this. From the point of history, it's dog-bites-man for the election of an inspiring president to be followed by a fierce backlash. In 1980, Ronald Reagan comes into office. In 1982, Republicans lose 26 seats in the midterm election. In 1992, Bill Clinton comes into office. In 1994, Democrats lose more than 50 seats in the midterm elections. George W. Bush looked headed for a similar fate until 9/11 reshaped the electoral landscape.

You could say, of course, that the problem here was the president. But both Reagan and Clinton won reelection. Voters turned on the new entrants as quickly as they'd turned on their predecessors. Washington doesn't do many things well, but it's absolutely aces at turning hope into disgust. One of the reasons I'm big into governmental reform is that I think the cynicism-o-matic that substitutes for a legislative process in this country is a pretty bad thing to simply accept.

Photo credit: Margaret Thomas/The Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 5, 2010; 4:31 PM ET
 
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Comments

I just read your last sentence three times and can't make heads or tails of it.

But if you're trying to say that it's frustrating when people default to cynicism over the abilities and good intentions of their leaders, instead of exploring alternative reasons the political process can't deliver results (coughfilibustercough), I wholeheartedly agree!

Posted by: WHSTCL | January 5, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Any mainstream popularity of the tea party movement, I think, is attributable to it starting to function as a vote of no confidence, like Hal Philip Walker's Replacement party. It has nothing to do with the specific messages of the teabaggers.

Moreover, it's pretty easy to have a positive view of a group that has no formal leadership or platform and no responsibilities.

Posted by: JEinATL | January 5, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

This is why I don't understand the White House drive for immigration reform this year. Latino voters support it in theory, but the details are likely to leaving them wanting. Meanwhile nothing galvanizes teabaggers like racism, uh, I mean nativism.

Posted by: bmull | January 5, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Ezra states..."In New York's conservative 23rd District, where a Tea Party candidate knocked out the Republican only to lose to the Democrat, suggests that this works much better in theory than in reality."


I'm tired of reading this bogus revisionists history of what happened in New York 23.

What happened was the Republican RHINO establishment put up another liberal candidate. It's all a wink,wink,nod,nod situation. They knew DeDe wouldn't rock the boat of their corrupt scam to continue squandering taxes on boondoggles, and probably told her if she just played along she could be the next paragon of a Republican moderate success in the mold of Arlen Spector, Bob Dole, or John McCain.

Well a few Tea Party types caught wind of this and given the tepid performance of at least the RHINO republicans, decided to throw support to her challenger Doug Hoffman.

A candidate from outside the district, who the Republican party fought against, who had little funding, and whose challenger in the Republican race, Dierdre Scozzafava eventually endorsed the Democrat, came out of no where to almost pull out the win.

The facts, hardly support your argument that a Tea Party endorsement will split the vote and throw every race to the Dems.

Believe me I am no Republican lover, but don't make stuff Ezra, you are better than that.

Posted by: chairman3 | January 5, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see a poll where people are asked about the policy positions of the so-called "Tea Party." Or to ask people whether there is an official registered "Tea Party" in their area. I suspect that not many people know the positions of the "Tea Party" beyond support of tax reductions and maintaining the health care system status quo. By saying they have a positive view of the "Tea Party," they are supporting a party that has never won an election, never put forth a complete platform, never taken a vote in Congress or a state house -- i.e., a phantom.

Posted by: meander510 | January 5, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

People love to hate politicians, which means that anti-politician groups like the Tea Partiers get alot of support from citizens fed up with the status quo. But the Tea Partiers are lunatics. If they ever had to run for office and actually defend their positions against informed and constructive criticism, they would very quickly melt away. It's easy to be popular when nobody takes you seriously. It's alot harder when people are actually looking to you for leadership. Just ask Ross Perot. Remember him?

Posted by: simpleton1 | January 5, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Possibly bogus stat alert: "The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent."

The problem is that "independent" gets conflated with "moderate." We know that the portion of self-identified Republicans has dropped dramatically. Some of these people may now call themselves "independents." So the apparent popularity of the generic Tea Party on the ballot may reflect the preference of disaffected Republicans (of whatever stripe), not of moderates in general, and so don't tell us how candidates would do in an actual election.

Or maybe not. But the poll itself gives us very little to go on. And we should be careful not to read too much into it, or at least this particular result.

Posted by: dasimon | January 5, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Possibly bogus stat alert: "The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent."

The problem is that "independent" gets conflated with "moderate." We know that the portion of self-identified Republicans has dropped dramatically. Some of these people may now call themselves "independents." So the apparent popularity of the generic Tea Party on the ballot may reflect the preference of disaffected Republicans (of whatever stripe), not of moderates in general, and so don't tell us how candidates would do in an actual election.

Or maybe not. But the poll itself gives us very little to go on. And we should be careful not to read too much into it, or at least this particular result.

Posted by: dasimon | January 5, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Possibly bogus stat alert: "The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent."

The problem is that "independent" gets conflated with "moderate." We know that the portion of self-identified Republicans has dropped dramatically. Some of these people may now call themselves "independents." So the apparent popularity of the generic Tea Party on the ballot may reflect the preference of disaffected Republicans (of whatever stripe), not of moderates in general, and so don't tell us how candidates would do in an actual election.

Or maybe not. But the poll itself gives us very little to go on. And we should be careful not to read too much into it, or at least this particular result.

Posted by: dasimon | January 5, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

"Unnamed Candidate" always beats the named candidates. The problem is, sooner or later, that candidate has to be named and loses the advantage of being imaginary.

Posted by: dpurp | January 5, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

"Unnamed Candidate" always beats the named candidates. The problem is, sooner or later, that candidate has to be named and loses the advantage of being imaginary.

Posted by: dpurp | January 5, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

W was an inspiring leader? To whom? I could barely keep the bile down every time he opened his mouth.

I'm more interested in supporting a fiscally responsible Democratic party- yes environment, yes education, less government, less god. Sort of Libertarian Lite. If the Tea Party was sort of a individual liberties supporting, anti-war, capitalist, west coast VC style, party, I'd be into that.

The tricky mess the Republicans have gotten themselves into- messing with the fundamentalists that ultimately are going to be supportive of supporting massive poverty spending and fighting the religious wars and the racists who are going to be anti-immigration really conflict with the corporate interests they are so often identified with. It's not a sustainable philosophical position.

Posted by: staticvars | January 6, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Dissatisfaction with Democrats DOES NOT translate into support for Republicans.

They were righteously trounced for holding the EXACT same positions that put America into its current messes and voters will not support them when they keep saying the same things.

The Party's are NOT two sides of the same coin (other than whores for campaign money) and I doubt ANYONE who ever supported the Democrats sees them 'equally'...this is wishful thinking by the media to equate the two, but Americans know who lied us into War, shoveled money to the rich bankrupting the Treasury, spied on citizens, bungled Katrina, et al.

Americans also know who keeps waving fetuses, screaming at gays, and hating on brown people.

Until Republicans repudiate their embarrassing base, offer a MAJOR mea culpa for their policies of the past 8 (30?) years, and think of something new to say beyond 'lower taxes', I just don't see them getting any traction outside the confederacy.

Beyond that, it's simply pathetic that their ONLY strategy for gaining votes is to hope that Democrats don't show up...they're not even trying to say that their policies are viable or necessary

And another thing, their demographiic cohorts are diminishing and they're NOT making any new fans among the young, the educated, or the non-white...

Wish and hope all you want, but America needs a robust conservative MINORITY, and the modern Republicans are just the guys to provide that...in perpetuity.

Posted by: russcarter1 | January 6, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Everyone misses the point with the "tea party" protests.

I, like many Americans, could not attend various protests for various reasons, but were with them in spirit.

The "tea partiers" are a majority of the country completely fed up with Obama and the government. Tired of lies, manipulation, deceit, thuggery, and spitting on our great nation's history and accomplishments.

The "tea partiers" are simply opposed to bad people running our country.

Posted by: notbuyingit | January 6, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein,
I don't think the New York race is a very good example -- that district votes solidly democratic. It's no surprise the democrat won.

The Tea Party Movement is the fastest growing, largest political movement in the country right now. It certainly has the potential to implode, but it's sucked up most independents and a good number of republicans and democrats.

I'm a JFK liberal and usually vote for the democrat (assuming they're reasonably competent), but this Tea Party Movement is looking pretty good to me. Here's how I see it:

The legacy of Carter was Reagan/Bush;
The legacy of Reagan was Clinton;
The legacy of Clinton was Bush;
The legacy of Bush is Obama;
The legacy of Obama will be Palin.

Palin is the natural leader of the Tea Party Movement. You'd better take this seriously.

Posted by: prospector | January 6, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This thread cracks me up! Teabaggers are so well informed!!

"that district votes solidly democratic. It's no surprise the democrat won."

Hadn't sent a Dem to congress in over a century. But don't let facts cloud your beautiful mind!

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 6, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Prospector,

That NY-District had been represented by a Republican since Reconstruction. It is a GOP district, not a Dem one. Obama won it in 2008 but that was an exception, not the norm. (Bush won it twice)

And I just don't see how somebody who calls himself/herself a JFK liberal and who normally votes Democratic can even come close to liking the idea of a Palin presidency. Seriously? Palin was created by the same neo-con elites who brought us the Iraq war and most of the ills of the Bush administration. And you want her in the Oval Office? Yeah, the GHWB-Jimmy Baker types in the GOP establishment might not like Palin so I guess she had some "anti-establishment" creds, but do you really want the neo-cons - who are certainly part of the establishment - holding the keys to the bus again?

The Tea Party movements thinks that things are so bad that we may need an armed revolution. They think Obama - who is far from a lefty, at least based on how he has governed so far - is destroying our nation with some mix of socialism/communism/fascism/ism, ism, ism. Do you subscribe to those beliefs?

Or are you just warning everybody to take this movement and their sainted one (Holy Sarah of Wasila) seriously? I do take them seriously...not because I think they are sane or have any good ideas but I know that economic distress can cause people to fall victim to an "everbody in government sucks" populism. Happened in many parts of Europe in the 30s, happens in Central and Latin America all the time. Usually doesn't work out too well.

Posted by: shamey73 | January 6, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Given the way things usually go in midterm elections, the interest in "tea party" candidates really shows how badly the Republicans are doing at being a credible opposition.

Posted by: jginsbu | January 6, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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