That headline is sarcastic, of course. The liberal American Prospect recently reported on a new study of Tea Party members (or more precisely, a poll of FreedomWorks members) by the College of William & Mary. It found three things:
1. “Tea Party activists are not Republicans.” — “While 70 percent of FreedomWorks activists identify as Republican, another 23 percent reject the Republican label entirely and instead, when asked which political party they identify with, choose “other. Asked if they considered themselves more Republican or more a Tea Party member, more than three-quarters chose Tea Party.”
2. “Tea Party activists nearly as concerned about winning.” — “More than three-fourths of respondents preferred the candidate who was more likely to lose but shared their positions.” That is, as opposed to a candidate who didn’t share all of their views but had a better chance of winning.
3. “Attempts to bridge the gap between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party are doomed to fail.” — “On some issues, like abolishing the Department of Education and environmental regulation, the establishment Republicans are actually closer to Democrats than they are to the Tea Party respondents. That’s a gap too large to be overcome by a few political action committees and gestures of goodwill.”
My gut reaction was, “They needed a study to find out that Tea Partiers are staunch conservatives? Really?”
Let’s go down those three Prospect article points one by one.
1. Here’s what the study actually found in terms of party identification: 70 percent called themselves Republicans and “only 3 percent of people voted for Obama or a Democratic House candidate in 2008, and less than 6 percent identify as either independents or Democrats,” according to the article. I don’t now about you, but that seems pretty partisan to me. The fact that a minority of Tea Partiers don’t identify as Republicans is more proof that they want to be seen as independent than they are independent.
2. Umm, what serious activist group doesn't want to win? Ask an environmentalist, a feminist, a union member, a gay rights activist, or an anti-war activist if they don’t prefer a candidate that is right on their issue(s) as opposed to one that disagrees with them somewhat. And yet nobody views those groups as a drag on the Democrats.
3. See point two, above.
The Prospect article is brimming with a kind of wishful thinking. It’s all ah-ha! The Tea Party will drive the GOP to ruin and here’s the proof! OK, it's true the Tea Party presents some strategic issues for the GOP and they’ve been party to some serious missteps – Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle, to cite the most obvious. But the notion that having a committed activist group on your side inevitably presents a net loss because they disagree with the party on a few issues is pretty weak.