Will the Tea Party party on or will it turn into the Tea Party Party?
We’ll know more after their convention next month in Nashville, an ironic but suitable choice for such a conclave, but all breathless anticipation aside, and despite the efforts of at least one enterprising Florida pol to hijack it for his own purposes, The Tea Party Movement is far more likely to morph into an organization along the lines of Democracy for America and moveon.org than to become a national political party. Here are a few reasons why:
First, it takes a lot of time, work and money – especially money – to turn a visceral position into a viable national party. Ask Ross Perot, who established the Reform Party in 1995 and ran as its Presidential candidate in 1996, or any of the leaders of the 40-year-old Libertarian Party, which is generally considered to be the third largest party, but doesn’t have much to show for it in the way of election results other than Jesse Ventura.
Second, the American electoral process is governed by a crazy quilt of laws and rules that change from state to state, and even year to year, making it next to impossible for any but the two major parties to mount a national campaign. The Libertarian Party has beaten the odds and achieved 50-state ballot access three times, in 1988 (Ron Paul) 1992 (Andre Marou) and 1996 (Harry Browne), but as noted above, it hasn’t made much of a dent.
Third, that same crazy quilt makes it difficult to win at the local or state level, where all political organizations are really built and sustained. Twenty-six states have closed primaries. In the other 24, an olio of open, semi-open and open-on-contingency systems restrict access to all but Dems and Reps to varying degrees. And in most states, the rules apply all the way down the ballot. So if you can’t get your guys elected to the county commission, you’re not likely to get them to the state house, and since that’s the path to Congress, and Congress is the gateway to the White House… well, you get the idea.
Finally, size DOES matter. So just as corporate behemoths like WalMart, Delta Airlines and AT&T persist, prevail, and perpetuate themselves at the expense of countless small competitors, the Tea Party Movement is not likely to be much of a match for the “Big Two,” especially since most of its support (and supporters) come from one of them. When push comes to shove, opportunists like Dick Armey, Michele Bachman and even Sarah Palin will go with the GOP, the Tea Party partiers will either have to fall in line or be left out in the cold, and Rick Santelli will become an obscure footnote.