Is the Tea Party Movement Overhyped? Yes.

In a timely corrective, Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith of the Politico point out that the Tea Party is getting a lot more attention that it really warrants:

[GOP consultant Mike] Murphy, who calls the attention "absolutely ridiculous," sees it of a piece with what has become the biennial compulsion in the political community to hold up a newly-discovered, and always pivotal, bloc of voters; Like the Angry White Males, NASCAR Dads, Soccer Moms of election cycles past – only on steroids.

"There is this urge to give any political development a catchy name and a picture," he lamented, adding the familiar Republican complaint that well-educated, left-leaning, coast-dwelling reporters view middle America through an elitist lens.

"These young reporters fly to the wilds of Oklahoma or Kentucky, find a bunch of folks in Uncle Sam suits hollering and come back thinking they've got some hot scoop," Murphy said.

Quite so. And one thing we see from Tea Partiers themselves is a zeal to portray their movement as something that is not just a bunch of angry Republicans. Because if that's all it is, then it looks not like a new and fascinating phenomenon threatening to transform American politics, but like, well, a bunch of Republicans who don't like a Democratic president. In other words, not exactly hot news.

That's why you hear Tea Party spokespeople repeating over and over again that, according to a New York Times poll, only 54 percent of them are Republicans, and the rest are independents or Democrats! Is this true? Strictly speaking, yes -- but beware the "or." If there were plenty of Democratic Tea Partiers, that would indeed be something. So how many of them are Democrats? Five percent. So another way to put it would be, 95 percent of the Tea Partiers are Republicans or independents. Which suddenly doesn't sound so bipartisan.

That could be the biggest reason why this movement's days are probably numbered. Once the fall elections take place, the political world's attention will turn to the Republicans who will start running for the 2012 presidential nomination. And all these Republican Tea Partiers will begin putting their political energy, if they still have any, toward that contest.

-- Paul Waldman

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