Are Tea Party Activists Just Republican Party Dupes?

It sure looks like the GOP is playing them.


By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I like Jonah Goldberg. His wildly successful book Liberal Fascism exposed a raw nerve in liberal academia: When they weren’t ridiculing it, they were conceding that he had a point. But I fear he, and the increasingly overexposed Glenn Reynolds, have become far too enamored of the Tea Party movement.

Today, for instance, Jonah tries to explain away the selective timing of the Partiers’ deficit hawkishness, calling such suspicions “lazy sophistry”:

No doubt partisanship plays a role. But partisanship only explains so much given that the tea partiers are clearly sincere about limited government and often quite fond of Republican-bashing. So here’s an alternative explanation: Conservatives don’t want to be fooled again.

Fair enough. I happen to think criticism of Bush’s record on deficits is as oversimplified as that of Obama’s today. Very few conservatives—Tea Partiers especially—are willing to concede that the 2001 tax cuts are a major driver of our current fiscal mess. Conversely, the prescription drug benefit isn’t necessarily the disaster it’s made out to be. As Tyler Cowen has written, there’s reason to believe that the Medicare Part D program might yield substantial savings down the line.

And Jonah is half-right when he writes this about his time among the Tea Partiers: “I did see something a lot of people, on both the left and the right, seem to have missed: a delayed Bush backlash.”

This is true. But Michael Brendan Dougherty noticed this first—and his far less charitable explanation for this long-fused backlash strikes me as far more plausible:

Despite the real idealism of some of its activists both inside and outside the Beltway, the Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum. Send the conservatives into the streets to vent their anger. Let Obama feel the brunt of it. And if the GOP shows a modicum of contrition, the runaways will come home.

That plan is working perfectly. The power of Washington seems so remote to most people that even a scripted acknowledgement of their grievances tends to pacify them.

The Tea Party movement creates the conditions in which the activist base of the GOP can feel like it is part of the game again. They can forget Bush-era betrayals, swallow their doubts, and vote Republican in November. The next Reagan is coming, the next Contract With America will work, the next Republican nominee will be one of us.

I don’t deny the Tea Partyers’ sincerity. But anyone who doesn’t see the reality of the Dougherty scenario is simply being painfully naive.

Corrected on : Corrected on 04/22/10: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this blog post failed to mark a paragraph as having been a quotation from Michael Brendan Dougherty at the American Conservative.