Putting the 'tea' in GOP?

A look back to February, when 600 delegates from the National Tea Party convened in Nashville.
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rep. Michele Bachmann is the leader of the Tea Party -- literally.

Wednesday morning, with the blessing of House GOP leaders, the Minnesota Republican convened the inaugural meeting of her Tea Party Caucus, where two dozen GOP members of Congress sat down with a similar number of Tea Party activists behind closed doors in an Armed Services Committee room. Then it was Bachmann's job to lead the group across the street to the Capitol for an appearance before TV cameras.

"Okay, we can just go down the stairs," she called out. "You're doing great, everybody. Okay, guys, this way!" She accepted a tube of lipstick from a male aide and applied it as she strode through the hallways of the Rayburn Building. "The press has been following us," she explained.

She continued her march down the Rayburn driveway ("Sorry about this long trip; I know it's warm") and across Independence Avenue ("Okay, let's cross when we can!") and finally mustered them a few steps from the TV cameras. "Ready to roll?" she asked.

There and then -- on the Capitol grounds 104 days before the midterm elections -- Tea Party activists and Republican officeholders set aside any pretense about the two groups being separate. They essentially consummated a merger: The activists allowed themselves to be co-opted by a political party, and the Republican leaders allowed themselves to become the faces of the movement.

Naturally, both protested that nothing of the sort was occurring. "I am not the head of the Tea Party," Bachmann announced as she stood in front of a phalanx of Tea Party leaders. "We are also not here to vouch for the Tea Party."

With a dozen House Republicans surrounding her, Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, announced that her group "wanted to make sure the people in Congress don't become a mouthpiece for the movement."

Sorry, ladies. When Tea Party leaders join Republican lawmakers for a private strategy session followed by a campaign rally in the shadow of the Capitol, each has essentially endorsed the other.

"We have to turn the tide around now in 2010 by electing conservative candidates such as Mrs. Bachmann here," activist Ana Puig proclaimed during her turn at the microphones.

"Let's lean into the fight, and let's take this country back in November," agreed Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.).

Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) forecast a Tea Party "tsunami that will sweep out these extremists who are governing the Congress in November."

A questioner asked Bachmann whether she was "putting your Republican colleagues in a spot" where they had to embrace the Tea Party. Bachmann said that three House Republican leaders have joined (the head of the House Republicans' 2010 campaign and the chairman of the House Republican Conference are members) and that "another member who is in the leadership told me he's very supportive of what we're doing and this is complementary" to other Republican efforts to seize the House in November. Bachmann added, incongruously, that she is still "hoping to be bipartisan" in her Tea Party Caucus.

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