So began the CNN-TPX romance, to be consummated tonight in prime time. The movement's skeptics were partly wrong, partly right, about the effects. It did not make the Tea Party look partisan. The TPX's leaders were reliable critics of the GOP, who would endorse candidates that Karl Rove didn't like—Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle. The rallies were wonderfully random affairs—no one who's seen the cowboy-hat-clad singer Lloyd Marcus sell CDs of his "Tea Are the World" singalong, or heard him write Tea Party lyrics to "New York, New York," could think "Wow, that's one well-oiled Republican machine."
What were the skeptics right about? By folding so neatly into the left-right framework of cable news, the TPX helped the Tea Party become what it is today. No one wonders anymore how to define the Tea Party, or whether it will break up American politics as we know it. The debate is whether the Republican Party is an arm of the Tea Party, or the other way around. A movement that grew out of anti-TARP, anti-American Recovery Act anger was mostly tamed. Tonight, says TPX's political guru Sal Russo, the group has encouraged CNN to ask more economic questions, fewer questions about social and foreign policy wedge issues. This is what Tea Partiers want to ask; it's also what every Republican campaign, so very, very tired of questions about evolution and poll numbers, wants to be asked.
"We would like to find more Democrats to endorse," says Russo. "But it's hard to find any that are opposing Obama's policies. We will find more when there is a Republican President, just like the Boll Weevils during Reagan's tenure."