Ever since the government shutdown (and well before it), folks like The Fix have been focused like a laser on the tea party's influence on the Republican Party.
All of which obscures one simple fact: Americans see them as basically the same thing.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows an increasing number of Americans think the tea party has too much influence in today's GOP. While 23 percent said the tea party had too much influence in a March 2010 WaPo-ABC poll, and 35 percent said the same in a Pew poll early last month, 43 percent now say it has too much sway.
Among pivotal moderate voters, well more than half (56 percent) say the tea party has too much influence on the GOP, while just 22 percent say it has about the right amount.
Perhaps more illustrative: views of the Republican Party's ideological leaning are essentially the same as the tea party.
Forty percent say the tea party is too conservative — about the same number as say the Republican Party is too conservative (43 percent). While 36 percent of Americans say the views of the GOP are “about right,” 35 percent say the same of the tea party.
Views of the GOP and the tea party are virtually the same across all demographics. Fifty-five percent of moderates say the GOP is too conservative, versus 52 percent who say the same of the tea party.
In other words, if the tea party has moved the GOP to the right -- and it has -- it has done so to such an extent they are now viewed as ideologically very similar.
This shouldn't be surprising. As the shutdown showed, when the tea party wing of the GOP wants something and is willing to push for it, it often gets what it wants (even if GOP leaders would rather not push the envelope). The same could be said of the immigration debate in recent months.
True tea party members don't represent a majority of the House GOP or the Senate GOP -- not even close, in fact -- but their influence and the party's increasing emphasis on conservative purity have made them hold such sway that Americans see little daylight between folks like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). People in Washington may know those members are quite different, but that doesn't mean it's the conventional wisdom outside D.C.
Now, all of this comes with one giant caveat that we think is worth emphasizing.
And that is this: As much as people think today's GOP is too conservative, basically the same number see today's Democratic Party as too liberal. While 43 percent see the Republican Party as too conservative, slightly more (46 percent) say the Democratic Party is too liberal.
So as much as the tea party may have made the GOP objectionable to a large swath of Americans, the Democratic Party has political extremism issues of its own -- even without a tea party-esque movement in its ranks.
The day before the son of Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) apparently stabbed the state senator, he underwent a psychiatric evaluation.
Freshman Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) has been charged with cocaine possession.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $7 million in October and has $25 million in the bank.
Rep. Tom Reed's (R-N.Y.) law office was once again late on property taxes.
Priorities USA raised almost $8.4 million in undisclosed donations through its nonprofit arm last year.
President Obama penned a tribute to the Gettysburg Address.
Cue the "Joe Biden defense."
"Maryland struggling with technological problems with online insurance exchange" -- Lena H. Sun, Washington Post
"Harry Reid between Affordable Care Act and vulnerable Democrats" -- Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim, Politico