by Max Brantley
Liberal columnist Frank Rich has no comfort for those dreaming about an election miracle, whether at the Pulaski Quorum Court, legislature or White House.
Tea Party triumphant, he says, although by another name — the Republican Party.
But isn’t the tea party yesterday’s news, receding into the mists of history along with its left-wing doppelgänger, Occupy Wall Street? So it might seem. It draws consistently low poll numbers, earning just a 25 percent approval rating in a Wall Street Journal—NBC News survey in September. The tea-party harbinger from 2008, Sarah Palin, and the bomb throwers who dominated the primary process of 2012, led by the congressional tea-party caucus leader Michele Bachmann, were vanquished and lost whatever national political clout they had, along with much of their visibility (even on Fox News). So toxic is the brand that not one of the 51 prime-time speakers at the GOP convention in Tampa dared speak its name, including such tea-party heartthrobs as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Scott Brown, who became an early tea-party hero for unexpectedly taking Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in 2010, has barely alluded to the affiliation since.
All this evidence is misleading. As one conservative commentator, Doug Mataconis of Outside the Beltway, wrote during the GOP convention, it means nothing that Republican leaders don’t mention the tea party anymore. “In reality, of course the Republican party of 2012 is pretty much the tea party at this point,” he wrote. “One need only look at the party platform and listen to what the speakers are actually saying to recognize that fact.” He saw the tea party as “likely to see its influence increase after the November elections regardless of what happens to the Romney/Ryan ticket”—and rightly so. Though the label itself had to be scrapped—it has been permanently soiled by images of mad-dog protesters waving don’t tread on me flags—its ideology is the ideology of the right in 2012. Its adherents will not back down or fade away, even if Obama regroups and wins the lopsided Electoral College victory that seemed in his grasp before the first debate. If anything, the right will be emboldened to purge the GOP of the small and ideologically deviant Romney claque that blew what it saw as a “historic” opportunity to deny a “socialist” president a second term.