The "Tea Party" Label Doesn't Matter

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 29 2011 1:26 PM

The "Tea Party" Label Doesn't Matter

Shannon Travis writes what must be the millionth story on this theme.

Fiery Republicans known as the Tea Party Caucus are at the center of the debate over which version of a plan - if any - to cut spending and raise the debt limit should be adopted in Congress.

Are they? Sort of! The Tea Party Caucus was set up by Michele Bachmann in 2010 but it wasn't taken terribly seriously by activists -- less so after Reid Wilson reported that its members had requested a total $100 billion of earmarks. It looked like a way for Tea Party members to declare their pride, and, conveniently enough, a way for other members to Tea-wash themselves. For example, look at the list of 60 members. How many of them are no firm no votes? Seven. Seven of eighteen firm no votes. Meanwhile, Caucuser Allen West said he'd "drive the car" to pass the Boehner bill before it was even tweaked. Being a Republican from South Carolina is a far better indicator of Boehner plan opposition than being part of this caucus.

So what's the value of being seen as "Tea Party"? It's pretty obvious, and gets more obvious when you realize how little the media cross-checks this stuff. Marco Rubio, you'll recall, won the 2010 GOP primary for U.S. Senate by aligning himself with conservatives against Charlie Crist. The media branded him a "Tea Party" candidate; he didn't deny it. And it was true that Tea Parties backed him. But where is he in the Boehner plan wars? Pretty quiet. Here's his tweetstream since the fight began.

Screen shot 2011-07-29 at 12.56.48 PM

He supports Cut, Cap, and Balance, but he's not joining Rand Paul et al in trying to break the Boehner plan. And basically no one cares! He's still got clout that Mitt Romney tries to tap into when he's listing his possible VP candidates.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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