The Weekend of Magical Thinking
After its takeover of the Republican Party, the Tea Party is making plans for its takeover of the House.
If Republicans win the midterm elections in a rout, it will be because of people like Brian Hegarty. In January, he appeared on Fox and Friends to talk about a town hall meeting where he asked Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., how Holt could support the Affordable Care Act since it "violated the Constitution." Not long after that he lost his job as a carpenter, which may or may not have had something to do with what his union thought of the TV appearance.
"I can sure as hell attest to the fact that they weren't happy," said Hegarty.
I learned of Hegarty's fate this weekend in the lower level ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel, where he was attending the first-ever conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition—a new conservative action network launched by former Christian Coalition strategist Ralph Reed. Hegarty was one of 50 people who'd traveled by bus to the conference from New Jersey to hoot and cheer when Anna Little, the Republican candidate in New Jersey's 6th district, gave her speech. Afterward, he was going to climb back onto the bus and go to the rally against the "Ground Zero mosque" in New York City.
"We don't assimilate to every subculture that comes across the border," said Hegarty, explaining why he was going to New York. "They're supposed to come here and assimilate to our Constitution, our laws, and our customs."
The next day, he would bus back down to Washington and attend the second annual Taxpayer March on Washington run by FreedomWorks. Would that be a distraction from the work of electing Anna Little? Hell no, he said. He was going right back to work.
"The Republicans are gonna win the House," he said. "It's a done deal. We just need to do what we said we were gonna do."
As I talked to Hegarty in the short hall next to the main ballroom, Ralph Reed walked back and forth, talking to speakers and reporters, greeting many by name. Hegarty proved what Reed was telling them—there was a possible landslide in the making, and districts no one thought would be on the map, like New Jersey's 6th, were worth fighting for. Reed told the overflowing room that Republicans had a chance to "change the electorate." He remembered his own experience, seeing Florida senatorial candidate Marco Rubio speak when polls showed him getting buried in the Republican primary by Charlie Crist.
"I remember thinking to myself this guy is so fantastic, it's just unfortunate that he can't win," said Reed. "But I wrote him a check anyway. When you have people thinking like that—I don't care if he or she wins or not, I want to give them money—get ready to put on a gown or a tuxedo, because you're going to a victory party. That's how it works. You run people who the pundits and the prognosticators and the pollsters don't think can win. They can make contact with the voters, and the voters get excited."
Reed's conference was not an attempt to energize conservative activists. It was only the latest attempt—one of several this weekend—to try to capture or direct some of the boundless energy of those activists. Since the start of the Tea Party movement in February 2009, they have evolved from fear to resolve to a sort of steely-eyed giddiness in the countdown to the midterms. They now believe they can win everything. If they don't believe that, a Republican strategist will tell them they can.
At Reed's event, the positive reinforcement came from pollsters, candidates, and pundits who people recognized from Fox News. Dick Morris, whose fall from grace 14 years ago was not lurid enough to deny him access to a family-friendly conference, appeared via a recorded video with champagne wishes of massive Republican gains of 60-odd House seats and at least 10 Senate seats.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.