Monday, February 15, 2010

Tea Party Futures

Chris Good asks:
This raises the question: does the future of the Tea Party movement lie in forming officially recognized political parties on a state by state basis?
I'm willing to say: No!

Frankly, I don't see the Tea Party "movement" having much of any future at all.  We're basically talking about more or less four strains, with these folks.  First, there are some libertarians.  They really have no reason to form a separate party, since there's already a Libertarian party that's done the hard work.  Second, and probably the largest group, are disaffected Republicans.  Nine out of ten of them are eventually going to wind up right back in the Republican party, if they ever left it in the first place (I'm sure for many of this group, attending a "Tea Party" rally is just a manifestation of being a conservative Republican, not a rejection of that party).  Third, you have some real crazies, people who are on or beyond the fringes of mainstream political discussion -- conspiracy theorists, bigots, and others of that ilk.  They exist and will always exist in American politics, but if they come to dominate the "movement" then the rest will quickly clear out, and their institutional support will dry up.  And, then, fourth, there surely are a some number of people who really think of themselves as being something new, and perhaps even have views on public policy issues that differ enough from the libertarians and from Republicans that they really don't belong in either camp.  My guess is that it's a fairly small group -- but, as with the crazies, if they do control the "movement" and try to run candidates, once again their institutional support will dry up.

OK, I mentioned it twice, so I should define what I mean by "institutional support."  All I mean is that the Tea Party events and the idea of Tea Party types as a movement have received strong support from parts of the Republican Party network, most notably Fox News, but also Dick Armey's organization, and many others.  Not only does that help directly, but it also gives the Tea Party groups respectability, and that gets them taken relatively seriously across the media.  That support will simply end if the Tea Parties become a threat to getting Republicans elected to office. (It will also end if Republicans are in office and Tea Parties start attacking currently elected Republicans).

I'm sure that to those involved, the Tea Party movement seems new and exciting and something real and apart from politics-as-usual; I'm sure many Tea Party activists are sincere in their opposition to the Republican as well as the Democratic Party.  From their point of view, that's true.  But from a wider point of view, I'm fairly certain that Tea Partyism is best thought of as part of part of the Republican Party network, and to the extent that Tea Partiers have real differences with the bulk of the Republican Party, their future lies in attempting to change that party.  This is not at all unusual; those who went Clean for Gene in 1968 didn't think of themselves as in training for a career as Democratic Party hacks, but those who didn't drop out -- those who mattered in politics in the long run -- generally did it as activists within, not outside of, the Democratic Party.

It's a two-party system.  Anyone who tells you differently either misunderstands, or is selling you something.

[Update: Link fixed.  Oops].


  1. The most obvious comparisons to make are to the "netroots" and In both cases, they occasionally presented themselves as something "different" from the Democratic Party, but most of the people who have supported them were just liberal Democrats (usually especially angry about the Iraq War). Mostly, they have just become part of the Democratic Party network.

  2. Some people say it's a "one party system".


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