The Tea Party Is Dead. Long Live the Tea Party.

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Does yesterday’s vote for a clean debt ceiling increase mean that the Republican Party is finally coming to its senses? Ed Kilgore doubts it:

You will forgive me for an enduring skepticism on this latest “proof” that “the fever” (as the president calls radical conservatism) has broken, the Tea Party has been domesticated, the grownups are back in control, and the storms that convulsed our political system in 2009 have finally passed away. We’ve been hearing these assurances metronomically from the moment “the fever” first appeared.

….[But] it is not all that clear just yet that the GOP back-benchers racing to get out of Washington before a winter storm are satisfied with how the deal went down. Their level of equanimity will not improve after puzzled conservative constituents grill them on this “surrender,” and after they are congratulated by everyone else on the political spectrum for their abandonment of “conservative principles.”

In other words, it’s once again premature to read into this development a sea-change in contemporary conservatism or the GOP. Best I can tell from reading conservative media the last few weeks, the reluctance of GOPers to engineer another high-level fiscal confrontation owed less to the public repudiation of last autumn’s apocalypse than to the belief that Republicans are on the brink of a historic midterm victory accompanied by a decisive negative referendum on Obamacare. If that’s “pragmatism,” it’s of a very narrow sort.

Yes indeedy. For all practical purposes, the tea party is moribund as an independent force, but only because it’s been fully incorporated into the Republican Party itself. Sure, there are still groups out there with “tea party” in their name, but the funding and energy are mostly coming from the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, ATR, and other right-wing pressure groups that have been around forever.

The difference between previous fluorescences of the nutball right and this one is simple: previous ones either died out in failure or else succeeded only in moving the GOP to the right a bit. The tea party fluorescence has finally captured the party for good. But this doesn’t mean that every single political confrontation is going to turn into a scorched-earth campaign. Even fanatics can tell when a particular tactic has stopped working, and even fanatics like to win elections. But that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their influence. They’ve learned a bit, and perhaps decided to become a bit more sophisticated about their opposition tactics, but they still control the Republican Party. Make no mistake about that.

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