The Conversation

The Tea Party plays the game of thrones

In response to In 2012, Tea Party's Mistakes Compounded IRS Abuse:

That's an excellent analysis.  I hope a contemplation of the IRS scandal's possible effects on the election doesn't lead anyone to ignore mistakes made by the Tea Party, the Romney campaign, or any other element of the Republican coalition.  That would be a terrible error.

I do find it fascinating that the voter suppression aspect of the IRS scandal has been completely ignored by the mainstream press.  You just know that if this were a Republican scandal, that would be the headline item, and Democrats would be howling to the moon about it.  A lot of them are still nursing dark fantasies about the "stolen" 2000 election; they use it in fundraising letters, and rail about it at political rallies.  To borrow a phrase from the title of the AEI post I referred to, it's an article of faith on much of the Left that George Bush was an "asterisk" President.  

Now, imagine Bush's IRS had been caught suppressing progressive grassroots groups during his 2004 re-election campaign.  I generally dislike grim hypothetical speculation that essentially accuses people of things they might have done, but I feel on pretty safe ground in saying there would have been widespread demonstrations, possibly violent ones.  And you'd better believe heads would have rolled long before now.  The media would be camped outside every IRS official's door, trying to coax out that all-important White House link to bring down the Administration.  I suspect there would have been Democrats in Congress openly questioning the legitimacy of the election.  

Even if a Republican president survived such a scandal and remained in office, it would become a massive rallying point for Democrat groups in the next few elections.  Maybe that will happen here, but it remains to be seen.  You can bet the media will be standing by to jump down the throats of any Tea Party group that makes too big a deal of it.

Your analysis of the Tea Party's errors reminds me of what I see as the central premise of the popular "Game of Thrones" books and TV show: the importance of carefully cultivating power, and honoring its requirements.  Characters in this story repeatedly come to ruin by mistakenly believing the rules of politics don't really apply to them, because they're righteous, or benevolent, or entitled.  

As a widely dispersed collection of grassroots groups motivated by principle, the Tea Party often makes that mistake.  They naturally dislike the compromises necessary for effective central leadership - that's one of their big beefs against the Republican Party.  But if you don't make such compromises, you don't get the benefits of organization.  Among other things, that means the entire loosely-organized movement is easily held accountable for anything said by anyone within it.  It becomes possible for the movement to be hijacked, or squander its influence on dead-end battles.  There's a lot of internecine warfare.  

And, in a bitter irony, when the exact sort of abuse the Tea Party organized to fight was perpetrated against them, they discovered that grassroots outsiders don't have the political clout to protect themselves.  Their complaints never really brought anyone to the rescue - the only reason this blew up into a huge scandal was the noxious Lois Lerner's panicked need to get out in front of the impending Inspector General report.  Obama and top Democrats pointed at the Tea Party and said "sic 'em."  The IRS (and other agencies, don't forget!) promptly lunged.  Nobody lifted a finger to stop them, even though abuses were reported by the victims fairly quickly.  

If this had all been happening to progressive or liberal minority groups under a Republican Administration, their protests would have brought immediate congressional response and media coverage; the Democrat version of someone like Frank VanderSloot or Catherine Englebrecht would have become an overnight national celebrity; movies about them would already be in the works.  If the Tea Party doesn't master the rules of the dismal game it hates, they'll never acquire that kind of influence.  It certainly didn't help that no small number of Republican officials and power brokers didn't mind seeing them escorted to the Red Wedding by the IRS.


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