The Tea Party has become a convenient scapegoat for both the left and the establishment right. If it weren’t for these nasty reactionaries, both groups fret, Washington would not be gridlocked, Republicans (nice, sane ones) would be able to win some elections outside the most rock-ribbed, gerrymandered districts, and our political climate would not be beset by so much nastiness and vitriol. Contemplating the imminent defeat of Barry Goldwater in the fall 1964 issue of Partisan Review, Richard Schlatter of Rutgers University (quoted in Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm) wrote that it had “demonstrated that we are all part of the American Establishment.” Today’s Tea Party has created a similar sense of solidarity, as the writers of the “Is the Party Over?” symposium show.
Theda Skocpol argues that the Tea Party continues to have a powerful hold on the Republican Party, and that “this radical movement” isn’t going anywhere, despite pundits’ repeated, optimistic reports of its demise. Alan Abramowitz posits that the movement has badly damaged the Republican Party and cowed GOP leaders into submitting to its unpopular goals. Sean Wilentz insists that the anti-government zeal of the Tea Partiers shouldn’t be compared to Jacksonian populism, which defended the Union against both rogue states and moneyed interests. Leslie H. Gelb and Michael Kramer point to the GOP’s ongoing confusion when it comes to foreign policy, with the Tea Party driving a strain of “hawkish isolationism” reminiscent of Goldwater. Christopher S. Parker says Tea Partiers’ opposition to Obama isn’t “driven solely by racial resentment,” but by “a more general perception of social change”; somewhat perplexingly, he then confidently predicts that the movement will lose intensity once Obama is out of office and “go underground” altogether if a white male Democrat becomes president. And Dave Weigel notes that Tea Partiers will be better prepared for the 2016 nomination battle and already appear to have a strong potential champion in Texas Senator Ted Cruz. With the possible exception of Parker, whose argument contradicts itself, all seem to darkly foresee, in the words of Gelb and Kramer, “a stronger, even more vociferous Tea Party,” with pernicious effects on the American polity.