Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tea Party Sells Out, Support Evaporates

Fox News producers were scratching their heads today when 70 people turned out for a major Tea Party rally it had arranged to cover live. The attendance was such an embarrassment that the channel showed the caption “Awaiting Start of Tea Party Rally on Capitol Hill” even though the rally was already underway. Attendance might have been reduced by the cloudy weather, but still, if the Tea Party can only round up 70 people for a rally in Washington, on national television yet, then it isn’t much of a movement anymore. You compare those 70 to the hundreds of thousands who rallied against the Tea Party governor of Wisconsin over the last two months — in Madison, which is not exactly Washington, and in much worse weather than we saw today — and you can only figure the Tea Party has run out of bullets. You look at the Tea Party’s poll numbers, and they tell much the same story. The Tea Party movement is still viewed favorably by Republicans, but not by anyone else, and the Republican Party is a small group, just a few years away from disappearing at the rate they are going.

What happened? I believe you have to look at the links between the Tea Party and Wall Street, which provides most of its funding and strategy. This is the one thing that never made any sense about the Tea Party, when you consider the way it grew out of the anger over the Wall Street Bailout. These back-room deals have been getting more attention lately, especially in connection with the Wisconsin story, where it turns out the new governor’s biggest contributors were Wall Street speculators and one of the bailed-out banks. Look at these deals from the point of view of one of the more dedicated Tea Party organizers, still fuming over the trillion dollars wasted in the Wall Street Bailout. “You mean Wall Street is funding the movement against Wall Street? Doesn’t that mean we’re . . . pawns?”

Perhaps it was easier to pretend that the Wall Street money didn’t matter when there weren’t any elected officials from the Tea Party movement. Now that there are a few dozen Tea Party candidates in office, and their collective record out of the gate is one of bending over backward to send more of the country’s money to Wall Street, it’s obvious that the money does mean something.

Imagine yourself a Tea Party organizer, trying to get people for the rally. What would you say? “Come on out to the Mall on Thursday. We’ll show those Wall Street fat cats that — oh, never mind.”