Is the tea party movement already weak tea? Has the anti-government, anti-Obama movement already peaked?
A new ABC-Washington Post poll shows that half of Americans now view the tea party unfavorably. Besides that, its political endorsements have not turned out as well as many had hoped.
In Nevada, tea party members are fussing and finger-pointing over the election of Sharron Angle as the GOP nominee to face Harry Reid. Some are pointing out the obvious: Angle, a former state legislator with fringe views, isn’t the strongest candidate against Reid.
In Virginia, tea partiers put forward so many candidates for congressional seats that establishment-backed candidates won the nomination. It turns out that anger, which primarily motivates tea party supporters, is no substitute for organization. From the WaPo:
“No one owns the tea party brand, and that’s kind of the problem,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grass-roots director for FreedomWorks, which organizes tea party groups. “In Virginia — it breaks my heart. You’ve got six self-appointed tea party candidates and one establishment guy. You’re not going to beat the establishment guy in that situation” . . .
The discord is not only striking races such as those in Virginia’s 2nd and 5th congressional districts, where large fields of tea party candidates lost the Republican nomination to better organized establishment picks. It is also evident in races where tea party candidates have won — including Nevada, where Angle cruised to victory Tuesday with endorsements from the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth.
Even more demoralizing for activists, perhaps, is that disapproval of the tea party is at an all-time high, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The poll showed that 50 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the movement, compared with 39 percent in March.
This wouldn’t be the first time an American political movement began to fade soon after an energetic, even sizzling, beginning. And other movements — think Ross Perot — had the advantage of a charismatic leader. To survive, the tea party movement has an even steeper hill to climb because there is no central, guiding force.
The movement still has a few strengths, including enthusiasm in the South, where it has an outsized effect on electoral politics. In Kentucky, tea party favorite Rand Paul has a good chance of becoming that state’s next senator. And Sarah Palin, queen of the tea party, has enough clout to lift an also-ran candidate such as Nikki Haley to the front ranks. She is also an odds-on favorite for election in November.
But the truth is, the tea party was never a strong or widespread movement. Only 18 percent of voters identify themselves as tea party supporters. But its loud, publicity-oriented antics draw news media attention, giving it more an appearance of clout than actual influence.