The Tea Party is synonymous with anger. Anger defined it. Anger fueled it. Anger marred it. Anger became its face and its heart. But anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain.
A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that anger at the government among Tea Party supporters fell by 40 percent from September 2010 to this month. Furthermore, anger among Republicans fell by more than half, and anger among whites, the elderly and independents fell by 40 percent or more.
On the other hand, the percentage of Tea Party supporters who said that they trusted the government always or most of the time doubled from last March to this March, and the percentage of Republicans saying so nearly doubled. In fact, the percent of both Republicans and independents saying so is now higher than it has been since January 2007.
Less anger? More trust? What happened? The midterms happened, that’s what.
Elections have a way of cooling passions, especially when voters get what they want. (Remember how lethargic many Democrats became after November 2008?) Electoral success not only satisfies, it pacifies. The enormous gains by Republicans during the midterms assuaged much of the country’s grief. The pressure began to subside. The novelty dimmed. The urgency evaporated.
Yet Tea Party leaders are still sniping from the sidelines, holding politicians to overreaching promises made when the electorate was still stewing. Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, wrote a post on its Web site this week saying the House speaker, John Boehner, looks “like a fool” and should face a primary challenge in 2012 for not pursuing enough spending cuts this year.
For these Tea Partiers, any concession is a crime worthy of expulsion.
A September Pew Poll found that only 22 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party admire political leaders who make compromises. This is not the way the rest of the country feels. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans said that they admired politicians who compromise.
Staunch Tea Partiers seem to be guided by the worst kind of fundamentalist political extremism — immutable positions derived from a near-religious adherence to self-proclaimed inviolable principles. This could well be their undoing.
During the right’s season of anger, passion and convictions galvanized Tea Party supporters into an army of activism. But the vehicle is outliving its fuel. The movement is losing momentum. In fact, Tea Party-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin could be providing the rallying cry on the left to pick up the mantle of anger and send the momentum back the other way.
If Tea Party leaders continue to operate as if anger is still a major part of their arsenal and Republican politicians continue to feel pressured into untenable positions, Democrats could enjoy their very own Charlie Sheen-ism come 2012: “Winning!”
By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed columnist; Original article published in The New York Times, March 4, 2011