The Weekend of Magical Thinking
After its takeover of the Republican Party, the Tea Party is making plans for its takeover of the House.
"I wouldn't rule out the possibility of defeating Kirsten Gillibrand * in New York," said Morris, "or Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut, or Ron Wyden in Oregon, which would bring us up to 54 or 55 seats … but these are not written in stone. These are just polling numbers. You need to make these happen by working in those districts and making it happen."
A happy crowd that swelled to more than 500 people over the course of two days devoured all of this news. In breakout sessions, audience members occasionally expressed doubt and worry that their local candidates would lose to Democrats. They were told what they were getting wrong by strategists who are figuring out ways to maximize Tea Party turnout and liking what they see. (This event was scheduled for the 9/11 weekend to capitalize on interest in the FreedomWorks rally.) According to Deal Hudson, who once ran Catholic outreach for the Bush-Cheney campaign and is now the director of operations at Inside Catholic, the job is pretty easy.
"If you screen for people who attend church every week," said Hudson, "you get the vast majority of Tea Party activists."
In an interview, Reed told me that Republican turnout in 2010 has the potential to exceed "anything we've seen before," and made the case that the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Overtrick software and literature drops were going to be part of that. And he was going to be part of that, which was a surprise in itself. This was his return to the D.C. bubble after everyone wrote him off as a casualty of the Abramoff scandal. The infamous lobbyist hired him to work with Indian casinos; the fallout killed Reed's bid for lieutenant governor of Georgia. Reed doesn't even blink when asked about it now.
"I think I'm in a much better place personally," he said. "And a lot of people said the same thing about Newt Gingrich after he stepped down as speaker. Now, look where he is today. He might be running for president. So I don't know what the future holds."
Gingrich was one of the GOP stars who blessed Reed's weekend comeback with a speech about the coming rout. He also presided over his own celebration on Saturday night—a lavish premiere for America at Risk, the war-on-terror documentary "hosted" by him and his wife Callista. Citizens United, which is releasing the movie, was still tweaking it only days before the premiere. The result: a narrative that makes the case for neoconservative foreign policy by paying tribute to the people who protested the "Ground Zero mosque" in August. In the audience, alongside people like James Woolsey and Doug Schoen, were members of the Tea Party movement who'd scored e-mail invites.
Who else will see Gingrich's film? We don't know. It will play at the RedState Gathering in Texas this week, and it will be distributed on DVD and on college campuses. And it's a natural hit for Tea Partiers. The movie doesn't just reinforce their fears about President Obama's American-ness. It explains why Obama is making them less safe. It re-enacts the old LBJ "Daisy" ad with a fast-cut scene that shows a nuclear missile taking off from Iran, Israelis going about their day, and then, boom—a mushroom cloud. * Reed informed Tea Partiers that they had the ability to remake Congress. Gingrich informed them that they had a chance to save the world.
The weekend ended with that much-hyped taxpayer march. It was the only event of the weekend where nothing new was being sold to the movement. Instead, it was a tribute to what they'd already done, and a pep rally for everything they expected to win.
It was the first Tea Party rally in months that failed to overwhelm. Organizers quietly put the blame for that on Glenn Beck, who'd asked the Tea Party to come to Washington just two weeks earlier. Who had that much time and money to spend traveling to Washington? Yet despite thin turnout and rain and paranoia about milling reporters who were probably trying to "nail" them for the NAACP, the crowd seemed happy—buoyed by the knowledge that they were winning. And by the knowledge that they were now basking in thanks and pleas from the sort of people, like Ralph Reed and Newt Gingrich, who used to lead their party.
"We've rehabilitated the Republican Party," said FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe. "Or as I like to say, we've had a hostile takeover."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.