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Posted at 4:01 PM ET, 02/28/2011

What makes the tea party different

By Ezra Klein

I've been of the camp that says the tea party is mostly new branding for the conservative base of the Republican Party. Jon Bernstein says I'm wrong, and I think he's right about that:

Yes, Tea Partiers are almost always going to be the same group that opposed Clinton in the 1990s. But organizationally, they may well be different in important ways this time around. In particular, their eagerness to contest primary elections really does seem to matter. Granted, a few high-profile successes doesn't really mean that Members of Congress are in grave danger if they cast one bad vote. Politicians, however, are notoriously risk-averse when it comes to elections, and frequently overstate such dangers.

The consistent and effective use of primary challenges not only seems like something new, but like something that might really prove meaningful in the coming years.

By Ezra Klein  | February 28, 2011; 4:01 PM ET
 
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Comments

OK, so what you are saying is that Teabaggers are even more extreme versions of the same Republicans who opposed Clinton.

Yea....that IS what they are. Same ole, same ole.

Posted by: kindness1 | February 28, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

many years ago, i read "The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty"

and have always enjoyed the beauty of handpainted teasets...
and the whole concept, state of mind, and art of tea...
and the idea of tea parties...four little girls in a garden,
with hats and gloves...
or tea, on winter's night.

the tea party movement has changed all of that.
couldnt they have chosen another name for themselves?
the same thing has happened with alaska.

Posted by: jkaren | February 28, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

"the tea party movement has changed all of that.
couldnt they have chosen another name for themselves?
the same thing has happened with alaska."

It also happened with the word "liberal", when it was appropriated by the socialists.

Posted by: justin84 | February 28, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

The difference this time is that when they acquired the name Tea Party they also acquired a simple but powerful brand identity, easily recognized, easily understood, easily applied.

All the costuming became photogenic and gave them media coverage in ways that previous conservative groups under differing banners never got.

It's classic Madison Avenue branding, paid for mostly — if unwittingly — by the networks.

Posted by: tomcammarata | February 28, 2011 5:40 PM | Report abuse

"The consistent and effective use of primary challenges not only seems like something new, but like something that might really prove meaningful in the coming years."

Ezra, I think the jury is very much out on the potential consistency and effectiveness of this tactic over time. Based upon the last election, it seemed most effective in the reddest of red states (like Kentucky). It failed in Alaska, and it produced unelectable Republican general election candidates in states like Rhode Island. To me the most impressive victory was Florida, but since his election Rubio does not seem all that anxious to be thought of as part of the Tea Party brand.

Looking ahead, we have yet to see whether voters in the very red states like Utah that cast out effective Senators and Congressmen with seniority will be as pleased over time with the representation they receive from the inexperienced hard liners. There may be a buyer's remorse factor in the next congressional primary election cycle.

Although it is already clear that most potential 2012 Presidential candidates will pander so as not to alienate Tea Party activists, my hunch is that many Republican Party primary voters will be looking hard for a candidate that they feel has a solid chance of electability, not just perfect ideological "purity" by Tea Party standards. And I still think there is a very strong chance that there will be an independent third party candidate in 2012 claiming to be the true voice of the Tea Party, and competing for that slice of the Republican constituency. Trying to fully assimilate the Tea Party remains challenging for the Republicans in a way that assimilating previous socially conservative constituencies like the evangelicals was not.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 28, 2011 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Conservatives have been very effective at cleansing themselves of liberalism via primaries for more than a decade (viz Bret Schundler in NJ and Pat Fitzgerald in IL). This time around they fared better in the general, in no small part because the economy continues to drag.
Any explanation of anything in politics that drifts away from economic reality is just hand-waving.

Posted by: RZ100 | February 28, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

"It also happened with the word "liberal", when it was appropriated by the socialists."


well, a tea party, as is commonly thought of, has a genteel and halcyon connotation....
(except for the ones with mad hatters.)

`"At any rate I'll never go there again!' said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!'

Posted by: jkaren | February 28, 2011 11:18 PM | Report abuse

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