The MSNBC headline reads “Just 32% of Tea Party candidates win”. But I’m not sure I know what that means. Are there candidates registered with the Tea Party? Are there non-Republican conservatives making gains in the House or Senate this year? Or is a Tea Party candidate just any Republican who happens to attend Tea Party rallies or self-identify as such – or who the media designates as such?
The media is treating the Tea Party as if it were a third party that has somehow transcended the stale old two-party system. If the Tea Party were a third party, after all, 32% would be a phenomenal number. But the Tea Party is not a third party. It’s not anything at all but a new way to describe conservative Republicans. Or, as Joe Carter puts it, a new way to brand an old party:
The media, of course, will credit the victory to the Tea Party “movement,” rather than to traditional Republican voters voting for Republican candidates. The Republican establishment and the Tea Party’s self-appointed “leaders” will agree. The result will be their treating the Tea Party as if it were merely another special interest to be pacified, rather than the a new label for the same conservatives who have always caucused with the GOP.
Of course, until a Republican president is actually in the White House, I imagine Republicans/Tea Partiers can still play the role of opposition quite effectively. And the media will be only too happy to perpetuate the myth of a Tea Party independent entirely from the GOP establishment. However much this may be true of some grassroots organizers and however much the Tea Partiers may truly be tired of the Washington establishment, in the end they’re still just Republicans, electing Republicans, sending Republicans to Washington to do what Republicans have always done.