Without question, the Time Magazine person of the year must be the nameless, faceless Tea Partier (along the lines of, but better than 2006’s “You”). From “Astroturf” to ascendency, the Tea Party has endured slander and setback to become one of the most potent, viable and organic political movements in this country’s history. It has, without a doubt, irrevocably changed our political landscape.
It is hard to understate the impact that the Tea Party has had on the Republican party. The grueling primary season that saw patrician politicians overtaking many of the party’s chosen candidates sent shivers up the spins of the GOP’s decision makers. Any representative of the party with access to a microphone is quick to embrace the Tea Party movement, what else could they do? Behind closed doors, Republicans are as troubled by it as Democrats should be. No organization’s leadership enjoys being clearly informed of their inadequate performance by their constituency. That does not mean the message is not reaching its intended targets.
The Tea Party has pushed the national political discourse to the right. Local and regional Republican party operatives will have the Tea Party in mind when fielding primary candidates. In rural parts of the country, where Tuesday night’s election had a near decapitating effect on Democrats, the liberal Democratic candidate will be an anomaly. It will be years before the Democratic brand is fully rehabilitated in the nation’s exurbs.
Following the 2008 election results, prognosticators in the political arena were quick to relegate the GOP to the political wilderness. It was said that their rehabilitation would take a generation or more. Is the Democratic party doomed to the wilderness? No, and it will not be long before we are watching the pendulum swing back to the left – although today the momentum is with Republicans which does not bode well for the White House in 2012.
It will be interesting to watch this nascent movement evolve over the next two years. 2010 has revealed more questions than answers about the future of the Tea Party. Will the GOP and the new class co-opt the movement’s passion, or will they too prove compromising and disappointing to the conservative-leaning Tea Partiers. Will the Democratic party and the President triangulate and satiate the movement, fracturing it and rendering it hollow? Will the Tea Party movement simply run out of steam without a sharply partisan government to rally against?
If recent history is any kind of a teacher, the Tea Party movement is going nowhere. They were not given long odds on survival when it emerged. During the contentious town hall meetings over the summer of 2009, it was said that the Tea Party movement and its members were moved only by opposition to health care reform and they would fade away once that issue was resolved. They did not. After the primaries, some believed that the movement’s chosen candidates would get a shellacking at the polls simply due to their position outside the mainstream of though in the American media and academia. Well, some Tea Party candidates were beaten and some were not. Is this mixed message enough to discourage this passionate and focused group? It would be short sighted to believe so. The smart money is on the Tea Party movement being a significant feature of the 2012 electoral landscape and perhaps beyond.
Those that bemoaned the Tea Party’s existence simply because they do not embrace the principles of that movement make the same mistake that the Republican establishment did in ignoring and denigrating the anti-war movement in 2005 and 2006. The Tea Party has staying power and average citizens are engaged because of it. That is almost always a good thing.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com