It’s certainly taken a while, but as we head towards the Tea Party Movement’s holy day of April 15, it seems to finally be sinking in among the commentariat that these people did not come out of nowhere or arise spontaneously from an aroused populace, but are instead simply the same old conservative Republicans who used to be so boring back in the day. A new poll of the Tea Folk by Gallup seems to have spurred this realization along, though some gabbers may persist in being baffled by the high number of Tea Partiers who self-identify as independents. The Atlantic‘s Mark Ambinder explains it to them:
[I]t’s true that just half of those Tea Partiers surveyed called themselves Republicans. Yes, the lion’s share of the other half say they’re independent. But they’re not: they’re Republican-oriented conservative voters who are dismayed by the direction of the GOP and who don’t want to identify with the party’s brand. That’s not surprising, given how tarnished that brand is. Only 8% identify as Democratic; 7% identify as liberal; 70% percent identify as conservative; two-thirds are pro-life; nearly 90% were opposed to the health care bill.
This is a very old story, one that arguably goes all the way back to the 1940s. At any given moment, a significant number of conservative Republicans don’t want to call themselves Republicans because their leadership is not, in their view, conservative enough. This is one reason why Republican self-identification numbers have chronically undershot Republican votes in actual elections. At particularly difficult moments, conservative Republicans have even threatened to form a third party–as in the mid-1970s, when National Review publisher William Rusher argued that conservatives should leave the GOP to it’s “elitist” establishment and make common cause with Wallacites and other social conservatives in a “producer’s party.” Such threats today are no more unusual, or credible, but do help encourage Republican office-holders to follow their own inclination to hew to the Right.
As the (apparent) novelty of the Tea Party wears off, its familiar outlines should become apparent, except to those with a strong bias in favor of misunderstanding the phenomenon. In an interesting column today, Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect discusses those left-progressives who persist in helplessly hoping for a “populist” alliance with the Tea Folk. Part of the allure, he suspects, involves some progressive self-loathing:
[F]inding allies among Tea Partiers is the equivalent of what finding a black friend was to liberals in the 1960s. It’s a way to get in touch with the real America, to feel a little superior, a little less elitist or isolated, less wimpy, less conformist.
But the real America is at least as likely to be found in the 205 million voting age adults who aren’t Tea Partiers as the few hundred thousand who are. And the rest of that real America, with its own passions and anger and economic pain, is probably a more fruitful area to look for allies on real liberal goals that include inclusion and fairness.
In any event, I’m with Ambinder: If pollsters want to keep examining the Tea Folk, it’s time for them to drill a little deeper:
Next time, I’d love for Gallup, or any other pollster, really, to ask self-identified Tea Partiers for their vote histories, for their views on immigration and race, for their views on questions about Obama attributes (is he a socialist?), for their specific views on policy matters (do they support a “fair tax?”).
Moreover, instead of asking Republicans and independents over and over if they might be tempted to vote for a hypothetical Tea Third Party candidate, pollsters might want to focus on the actual major-party preferences of Tea Partiers, since in all but a few scattered contests, that’s what they are going to face at the polls. I say that mainly because of all the delusions surrounding the Tea Party Movement, the one that suggests Democrats will be saved by a mass of third-party candidates associated with said Movement is among the most fanciful. The Tea Folk are systematically dragging the GOP to the Right, and that’s the development that Democrats need to think about exploiting in November and beyond.