WILLIAMS: Who rules the ‘tea party’?

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Who rules the “tea party”?

Is it Sarah Palin and her lunchpail brand of God, guns and the Constitution? Is it Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who danced to his own tune and was the mastermind behind the GOP’s Contract with America? Or is the tea party led by a few private megafunders — a George Soros clan of the conservative movement?

One thing is certain, liberals have no idea who their opponent is, and they and the mainstream media are desperate to find out.

Several months ago, when the tea party crusade hit its stride with a Kentucky primary win by Rand Paul to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican, the Left went out of its way to link Mr. Paul as the puppet behind a larger Republican machine. Democratic operatives quickly labeled Mr. Paul and his style of politics as wholly indicative of what the GOP had become.

As predicted, Republicans had reverted to their old-school style of hate politics, the story line went, making this November a clear choice between “policies of the past” versus the future.

The political cheap shot was an easy one for the likes of Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. The narrative they could build around Mr. Paul and other tea party activists fit nicely into the party’s attacks, and gave them something to shoot at after being pummeled for months by a sluggish recovery and missteps of their own.

To Democrats and the media, the GOP had let the wing nuts take over. And so long as they were winning, Republican leaders were all too eager to sit back and watch.

But then Christine O'Donnell happened. From out of nowhere, this recycled candidate snatched victory from the jaws of the establishment — Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware. What a conundrum that created.

Now, all of a sudden, Republicans had taken a big step away from winning control of the Senate. Clearly, this wasn’t in the party’s plan, but up until now, everyone was saying the GOP was in control of the tea party.

Without missing a beat or even noting their own double-mindedness, pundits and columnists took to warning the country that Republicans had no control of the tea party, and such irresponsible behavior threatened to wreak havoc on our way of life (whatever that meant). As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote on Sept. 14, “The Republicans thought they had the rampaging Tea Party under control. Apparently the Tea Party begs to differ.”

So which is it? Does the Republican Party control the tea party? Is the tea party stationed off First Street in the Republican National Committee headquarters?

The truth is, the tea party is led by no one. It stands singularly united against the forces of “government knows best.” Unfortunately for the Democrats, the poster child of such doctrine is President Obama himself. No manner of ducking or dodging will dissuade tea party crusaders. So what opponents do instead is demonize this group because of its views; this from a man who pledged to be “President for all Americans.”

For now, the simple fact that the tea party is against something is enough to galvanize its followers and keep them focused on the prize — the end of the ruling party. It forces each candidate to listen to the local concerns of their constituencies, not some “head” that arbitrarily decides an official platform. The platform is simple: Stop wasting our tax dollars.

So-called “experts” claim the tea party affects only Republicans, but that’s an incomplete assertion. Throughout the country, we are seeing Democratic candidates run away from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their party to tout their independence and fiscal responsibility. When was the last time you saw so many politicians run away from their greatest “achievements?”

If the tea party and its message are so trite, why are officials on both sides privately telling me this is the best thing to happen to the parties in a long time? Simple: because it’s forcing candidates to finally start listening.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed in Washington circles is what the tea party needs. Like it or not, once these candidates become sworn-in members of the House or Senate, they will need to form a coalition government of sorts. Left to itself, there will be little legislatively it can do. Yet plugged into the policy apparatus of the Republican Party, it can begin to shape and turn initiatives, something every tea party disciple longs to see.

Can this movement last? Will it be around and in similar form come 2012? I believe so. There’s too much frustration and not enough relief in sight. But I don’t see a tea party movement in 15 years — not how it’s formed today. Groups like these need a common enemy, a political target to direct their discontent.

Finally, this movement possesses one characteristic that Democrats are sorely lacking this election cycle — enthusiasm. That’s why candidates like Ms. O'Donnell still have a better-than-average chance of winning. Do you think Delaware voters care what “The Architect” Karl Rove thinks? Hardly. Their own enthusiasm is almost enough to carry the day. Just look to 1994 to view that piece of history.

Who leads the tea party? It doesn’t matter. The political tour de force is felt by everyone, yet controlled by no one. Let the establishment beware.

Armstrong Williams is on Sirius/XM Power 169, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/arightside and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/@arightside.

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