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It's time for Tea Party 2.0. The movement and the issues that birthed it have both evolved. The question is whether its leaders realize that.
The Washington Times has an interesting article this morning raising questions about whether and how helpful the Tea Party will be going into 2012. It starts this way:
Republicans, once ecstatic about the energy generated by the 2009 anti-spending tea party uprising, are growing increasingly uneasy about the impact in 2012 of a movement that seems beyond the control of anyone, including its own leaders.
Meanwhile, in its headline story this morning Politico partially attributes Obama's latest bump in the polls and FL Gov. Rick Scott's sagging numbers to a "cooling of tea party passions." The story doesn't cite any evidence that the movement's passions are cooling. It's a highly debatable claim. But it's also noteworthy as a perception. The tea party doesn't appear publicly as focused as it has been.
Clearly the millionaire tea party imposter in New York's special election, Jack Davis, has many wondering if we witnessed a preview to what will become a trend going into 2012: the movement getting highjacked by individuals that end up working against the movement's aims.
But the real issue with the tea party, it seems, is whether it is as focused upon its mission as it was leading up to 2010. I think it is, judging by the money its core groups continue to raise and by the public events it continues to populate. But it seems the mission has changed, whether or not the various groups have completely figured that out and begun organizing around new objectives.
How has it changed?
In one big way: Tea Party 1.0, which led to historic gains in the House last November, was based on cutting (discretionary) spending. It's time for Tea Party 2.0, which needs to be based on reforming entitlements and the tax code. The movement's various leaders have not been as active or vocal on entitlements as they have been on spending.
The freshman class in Congress arrived in Washington thinking they were elected to cut spending, and then learned that the problems were much bigger and deeper than that. Tea partiers in Congress and activists around the country understand that the REAL mission is bigger than they thought, but the movement has not yet updated its rallying cry.
It needs to. If it does, it has a chance to get ahead of the public debate about Medicare reform going into 2012. It also has a chance to bring even newer, fresher faces to Washington who run on entitlement reform.
If any movement can turn entitlement reform into a winning issue for candidates, the tea party can. If it tries.