Political Analysis: Will Tea Party Have The Same Impact In 2012?
Only Rip Van Winkle could have failed to notice that the Tea Party brought new life and enthusiasm to a Republican party thought to be moribund, out of ideas, and on the wrong end of long-term trends, in 2010.
Will we see the same impact in 2012?
My guess is that we will, but not in the way that most people expect.
The fight for the Republican nomination for president takes place in a Republican party already reshaped by the Tea Party movement.
At least at this early date, there seem to be few states where conservative activists are likely to play a meaningful role in selecting candidates for the U. S. Senate — chiefly because strong candidates have emerged in most of the seats that will determine which party will control the Senate in 2013, but also because of the widespread perception that the nomination of self-styled outsiders who ranged from unseasoned to deeply flaky cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2010.
Where we are likely to see an impact, as we did in 2010, is in races for the House of Representatives. This time, that will be especially true in the handful of states where reapportionment significantly alters the boundaries of Congressional districts.
California seems likely to see some Republican losses, while the Democratic legislature in Illinois has already passed a plan that may eliminate five Republican members of Congress.
Elsewhere, the deck seems to be being shuffled in a way advantageous to conservatives. Texas, North Carolina, and Florida seem all but certain to head into 2012 with a fistful of newly competitive districts, as may Georgia and Ohio.
These races, close to home and where a contingent of dedicated volunteers can make a difference, will be where we find out late next year whether the currents of activism lumped together last year as “the Tea Party” will be remembered as more than a passing phenomenon akin to Ross Perot’s largely ephemeral “volunteers” twenty years before.
Michael O’Connell is a longtime political operative who has extensive experience on state and national campaigns.