A Tea Party Backlash Within the GOP?

Is the Tea Party the new religious right? By which I mean, the grassroots group the GOP uses to mobilize voters, then once in office, keeps serving up symbolic expressions of love without much to show in the way of actual policy goodies, while hoping to keep the crazies under wraps. The fact is that the Republican establishment has always been a bit uncomfortable with the religious right, as much as they need them to win elections. And that establishment may become increasingly unsettled with the Tea Party.

In today's Washington Post, Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, unloads on the Tea Party, in terms its members will no doubt find elitist: "In the normal course of events, political movements begin as intellectual arguments, often conducted for years in serious books and journals. To study the Tea Party movement, future scholars will sift through the collected tweets of Sarah Palin." Oh, snap! He also criticizes them for not understanding the history they claim to honor, for being a bunch of hateful nativists, for their obsession with guns, and for sowing the seeds of future Republican defeats.

Gerson may be the exception now -- we're still more likely to see establishment Republicans shamelessly groveling toward the Tea Party. But if you're an old Republican hand with a comfy sinecure at a right-wing think tank, what are you likely to think of this unruly mob? It's all well and good if the fruit of their labor is candidates like, say, Marco Rubio -- who sing the Tea Party tune, then promptly move to the center in the general election, becoming standard-issue Republicans. But if you get more genuinely nutty candidates like Sharron Angle, who threaten to lose elections Republicans think they should have won, the backlash will gain momentum.

-- Paul Waldman

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