The Tea Party Big Picture

November 5, 2009 2:58 p.m.

TPMDC’s Evan McMorris-Santoro spent the day among the Tea Party crowd at the Capitol. And Christina Bellantoni filed this report on what the Tea Partiers are saying about 2010 based on interviews she conducted with the protestors. Both are great reads. And I’d suggest reading both of them.

In many ways, though, what struck me most about today was what happened at the podium.This event began as a Tea Party event organized and galvanized by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the over-the-top, far-right congresswoman from Minnesota. As recently as Monday, the event was getting little more than polite, if tepid, endorsements from the Republican House leadership. We were on the organizational conference calls yesterday evening. And even then it was pretty much still her affair, with a mindset and affect to match.

But something funny happened at the event today. Virtually every marquee member of the GOP House caucus, including Boehner and Cantor, were there up on the platform speaking to the crowd. (See a highlight reel of the speeches here.) Bachmann was the start. But basically all of them were up there with her.

Early this morning The Politico got hold of a Republican Study Committee email asking staffers to send their members to the event but also to avoid words like “rally” and “protest” in favor of “press conference” or “press event”. Clearly, there was an effort to sanitize the event and get away from Bachmann’s high-strung rhetoric about a “last stand” against health care reform. So on the one hand the House Republicans wanted to take over the event. But they also felt the need to get out in front of it, to be in front of the crowd. It was a perfect, real-time illustration of the current struggle within the GOP, with the party establishment trying to harness but also control and not be overrun by the grassroots mobilization on the right.

But taking it all in, with Boehner up there saying health care reform was the biggest threat to freedom he’d ever seen, the Dachau signs, the arrests and the rest, it seemed more like the institutional GOP again being overwhelmed by its base, caving to them, joining them — the phrasing doesn’t really matter. This was Bachmann’s event. They may have been worried even last month about her effect on the party’s image. But she’s leading; they’re following.

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