Earlier today I noted that, to the amazement of his interviewer, former senator Jim DeMint claimed never have to be a tea party guy. The assertion is preposterous, of course, as the video from 2012 shows:
He was, you might remember, a founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. So why did DeMint go from “proud to be” a tea party member to “Who, me?”
For one thing, the Heritage Foundation, of which he is president, has come under fire for its intellectual slide and sublimation to the political bare-knuckles Heritage Action. In hiring economist Stephen Moore, the Heritage Foundation appeared to take one big step toward stemming the criticism and the outflow of scholars. Perhaps then DeMint took the new Heritage “we’re a think tank, not a political organization” ethos a little too far in denying his own roots and his involvement with other groups and candidates at the heart of the tea party movement.
Another possibility is that just as “liberal” became a term of derision for ideologues on the left (they’re now “progressives”), the tea party brand does poorly in polls and is the subject of much derision. Its self-identified tea party Senate candidates are bombing, so far. Perhaps then this is the start of a re-branding effort. (Don’t forget, DeMint once upon a time was a successful marketing professional.) Well, a rose by any other name….
All of this raises the question of what it will mean for the tea party — which does have groups with “tea party” in the title and many candidates who ran with the “tea party” label — if, for example, the GOP wins the Senate but few, if any, tea party candidates win against incumbents or more mainstream candidates. One possibility is that the inside-the-Beltway groups that have taken a prominent place in what is generally referred to as the “tea party” shed the pretense of being part of a grass-roots movement and simply return to being “movement conservatives” or “the right,” as many of these same characters called themselves for years. In essence, that would signify that the “tea party,” to the extent it was something distinct, has folded back into the GOP almost completely.
It will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, the tea party winds up at the end of 2014. But if Jim DeMint is any guide, it might be hard to find former tea party people who will admit to having been part of an essentially defunct group.