About a year ago, I began predicting that this Tea Party thing was going to just peter out, particularly once the 2012 GOP nomination contest began. All those tricorner hat-sporting folks would divide up between the primary candidates and start worrying more about that than about their infantile understanding of the Constitution or their alleged hatred for government spending. Wishful thinking? Sure. But it seems to be coming true. Time's Michael Scherer argues that "anyone and everyone is 'Tea Party.' The term is open-sourced. And though it will continue to be used over the coming months as a short-hand for the populist, unsettled upsurge in the Republican Party, it will mean less and less." Kevin Drum notes that he made the same argument months ago: "When everyone's a tea partier, then no one's a tea partier." And Daily Kos rounds up reports of Tea Party events, even some featuring celebrities like Michele Bachmann, struggling to draw a few dozen attendees.
You can't pretend you're an insurgent, anti-establishment force when your views, nutty though they may be, have been adopted whole-heartedly by the likes of Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. It no longer seems so exciting and dramatic to be a Tea Partier. And that's a large part of what draws people to political movements: the idea that instead of just being a spectator, you can be a participant in history, an active player in events people will remember for years to come. That's what drew so many people to the Obama campaign (and what it will be so hard for the re-election campaign to duplicate in 2012). Now that the GOP has moved to the right in order to incorporate the Tea Party ethos, and a hundred hucksters and frauds have tried to get rich off the Tea Party, and there are a dozen different organizations claiming to be "the" Tea Party ... well, it just doesn't seem so pure and rebellious and revolutionary anymore.