James Taranto, reviewing the recent polling data and rather favorable mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party movement, concludes:
It all adds up to a remarkably broad-based and nonideological movement–one that has gained strength as the Democrats who currently run Washington have proved themselves to be narrow and ideological. Had President Obama governed from the center–above all, had he heeded public opinion and abandoned his grandiose plans to transform America, he might well have held the allegiance of many of the people who now sympathize with the tea party.
It is also worth examining why the Tea Party movement polls more favorably than the president. Well, for starters, the Tea Party activists are advancing broadly popular, fiscally conservative ideas — reduce the debt, end the bailouts, don’t increase taxes, etc. In a Center-Right country, lo and behold, these are popular themes. And, of course, the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a single figure, a devisive character leading it, who may rub people the wrong way or condescend to those who disagree with its precepts. The benefit of being an ideas movement, as opposed to a cult of personality, is that the movement doesn’t wither once the leader proves to be less than advertised.
Neither does the Tea Party movement have the obligation to govern or formulate detailed policies. In that regard, it has an advantage that neither the governing party nor the opposition party enjoys. A debate has raged as to whether the Republicans need positive, specific alternatives to counter the Democrats in the midterm elections, or whether the Democrats have become so noxious that a “not the Democrats” or ” block Obama” message is sufficient to return the Republicans to the majority in the House and rack up big gains in the Senate. The answer, I think, is that there is a great risk for the Republicans in merely opposing without offering some comfort to voters as to what they will be getting should Republicans gain power.
The voters bought a pig in the poke with Obama. They may want some greater assurance this time around. That means, at the very least, that the Republicans may be obliged to go beyond the articulated critique of the Obama administration that has been ably advanced by the Tea Party activists. And after all, Republicans have workable ideas — from Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, and others on health care, for example. The Democrats have failed to advance a job-creation agenda, so Republicans who set forth their own proposals will certainly have a leg up on the party that has spent more than a year on everything but job growth.
The lesson of the Tea Party movement for conservative candidates is not that opposition alone is the key to popularity. It is that opposition to Obama can rally a broad-based coalition that may, if attractive candidates and a reasoned agenda are presented, be willing to vote for “change.” The country is largely dissatisfied, if not irate, with what has been offered by the Democrats; the Republicans, however, will need to close the deal if they are to wrest the reins of power back from those who sneered far too long at the popular uprising.