More impact is what’s next for Tea Party movement 

A year ago, the Tea Party movement didn’t exist. Today, it is arguably the most popular political entity in America. The movement already is, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Even in blue-state California, three in 10 voters identify with the Tea Party movement.

And, of course, Scott Brown’s come-from-behind blowout in Massachusetts occurred in no small part because of money and volunteers from the Tea Party movement around the nation.

This is heady stuff — and, for people in the political establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, it’s worrying stuff. If political movements can bubble up from below and self-organize via the Internet, what will happen to the political class?

Last week, Joe Scarborough wrote that the Tea Party movement might “tear itself apart.” His evidence of this: some squabbling over a Tea Party convention in Nashville. Well, squabbling is normal in movement politics, particularly when people think they’re being shortchanged on money and credit. But what’s really striking about the Tea Party movement isn’t that there’s squabbling — it’s how little squabbling, overall, there has been.

A few Tea Party purists didn’t want to support Brown, seeing him as insufficiently pure. But the vast majority made the entirely pragmatic determination that Brown, whatever his flaws, was vastly better than his Democratic opponent Martha Coakley, and just the guy to stop Obamacare in its tracks if elected.

They poured in millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers to help Brown win, and were immediately proven right. Brown’s victory did, in fact, derail Obamacare and produce a general Democratic flight from the whole “hope” and “change” agenda.

The Republican and Democratic hacks who were supposed to be worrying about this sort of thing, meanwhile, were asleep at the switch. Republican Party support to Brown was late in coming, appearing only after the Tea Party support raised his profile. Democrats were even slower to recognize the threat and react. And their reaction — a last-minute visit by President Barack Obama — probably hurt more than it helped, demonstrating their tone-deafness regarding public attitudes.

Tea Partiers seem quite clear on what they’re for: a limited government, one that keeps its nose out of their business and focuses on things like protecting the country in preference to redistributing income.

As blogger Freeman Hunt wrote recently: “You want a big tent? It’s fiscal conservatism. The people are overwhelmingly in favor of it. You offer that, you follow through on it, and you get the Republicans, the moderates, and a sizable chunk of disaffected Democrats.”

Tea Partiers are, in fact, working on a platform, which they’ve called the Contract From America. Though the name may remind some of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, this is something very different.

It’s a set of ideas developed via an interactive Web site, where voting determines which elements are most important. And it’s not a top-down contract consisting of promises made by leaders to the voters — it’s more in the nature of a contract of employment from the voters, which politicians may choose to accept, or look for alternative employment.

Whether the political class likes it or not, this sort of thing is probably here to stay. While 2009 was the year of denigrating and ignoring the tea parties, I suspect that in 2010, they’ll be listened to quite closely. Those who fail to do so, are likely to find themselves out of a job.

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