Back in what if memory serves was early 2011, I ran into a former Prospect writer and now semi-famous person in the lobby of a building near the Capitol where a bunch of TV stations have studios. We began chatting about the Tea Party, and I suggested that once the Republican presidential primary campaign got underway in earnest in a few months time, all those tricorner hats would be put away as the Republican activists who made up the movement turned their attention to the race to pick their party's standard-bearer, and the Tea Party would peter out. He agreed, and we parted ways, satisfied with our sage prediction that all that unpleasantness would soon be over and the country would return to its prior, more manageable level of political silliness.
OK, so it didn't exactly work out that way. What happened to the Tea Party was more a slow dissipation than a rapid fizzling out, and it still persists. Sure, they aren't organizing any well-attended protests, and the hundreds of Tea Party groups out there aren't able to act together in any meaningful way, but it still exists, after a fashion. There's still a Tea Party Caucus in Congress, run by Michele Bachmann, who remains a member of the House of Representatives, believe it or not. In fact, not long ago some other House Republicans decided to launch a new Tea Party Caucus, and were And today,The Wall Street Journal tells us that the Tea Party is back, baby!
After a tough 2012 election season, the tea-party movement is on the rebound. Mrs. Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, is riding a revival of interest sparked by controversy over the IRS's much-publicized targeting of conservative groups. She says the Patriots, the tea party's largest umbrella group, suffered because of the IRS's refusal to grant it tax-exempt status but now is benefiting from the backlash. Her group's monthly donations, she says, have tripled recently, and its staff has doubled.
The uproar has revived media attention and renewed the intensity of many tea-party supporters. Just last week, Mrs. Martin says, the Patriots received a new letter from the IRS asking for additional information about the group's activities, including copies of all direct-mail solicitations and telemarketing scripts before the 2012 election and any advertising materials in 2013. "This is beyond anger and frustration," she says.
Public-opinion polls suggest the controversy has helped the movement's image. In a June 15 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Republicans said they had a positive view of the tea party, up from 42% in January, but still below the 63% recorded in December 2010. Among all adults, 26% had a positive view, up from 23% in January.
Sure, the IRS "scandal" may have turned out to be a big nothing—no indictments, no impeachment—but the Tea Party's public approval has rocketed all the way up to to 26 percent. Congrats.
Democrats should be thankful that the Tea Party folks feel revived, though. Because the more active and visible they are, the less likely it is that Republican officeholders will even think about edging away from their crazy base, and the more likely it is we'll see more Todd Akins get nominated in Republican primaries. In other words, it means not much will change.