Okay, this is weird. Rasmussen Reports announced yesterday that their most recent poll shows the Tea Party beating the Republican Party by a five-point margin on a three-way generic ballot. A generic ballot pits nameless candidates against one another in a theoretical election; in this case, Rasmussen asked “If congressional elections were held tomorrow, would you vote for the Republican, Democrat, or Tea Party candidate from your district?” Democrats led the pack with 36% of the vote, the Tea Party got 23%, and Republicans finished third with 18%. Astute observers will notice that leaves 22% of those polled undecided, and also that the Tea Party does not, uh, exist. I assume the same poll found that Americans overwhelmingly reject cap-and-trade in favor of having Bigfoot drink carbon out of clouds, and want the government to stay out of health insurance so that costs can be determined by the invisible hand of David Bowie in Labyrinth.
You don’t have to be James Carville to recognize that this development bodes ill for the Republican Party. In two-way generic ballots conducted by Rasmussen, the GOP has led Democrats for the past four months. That they should suddenly fall to last place in a ballot that introduces the possibility of voting for a third party, even if that party does not exist, suggests that what little support they have is attributable to dissatisfaction with Washington, which is only incidentally controlled by Democrats. And while it’s a little early, these results also seem to constitute an enormous vote of no confidence in Michael Steele, the head of the RNC who was supposed to be reinvigorating the party. His political machine is currently being beaten by an organization that has no chairman, no offices and no tradition of actually being a real thing, which is like being unable to masturbate because you keep imagining that another, more attractive person seduces your partner away from you.
What’s more terrifying, and something that I cannot emphasize enough, is that there is no goddamn Tea Party. At least there wasn’t, until Fox News and the GOP somehow lost control of the golem they created entirely through astroturf protests and video editing. The original Tea Party demonstrations, which erupted on April 15th in protest of Obama’s continued use of the same tax policy we’d had for eight years with no protest, were organized by former Republican congressman Dick Armey and his FreedomWorks PAC. Subsequent protests were publicized and encouraged by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and assorted other millionaire entertainers, yet somehow the Tea Party is suddenly becoming a real thing in the world. Even weirder, it’s emerging as opposed to the Republican party that falsified its existence in the first place. It’s as if Mickey Mouse suddenly appeared outside the Disney offices, and he refused to stop talking about his dick.
For the first time in American history, we are witnessing the birth of a viable third party with no candidates, no national organization and, until recently, no constituents. Over at Talking Points Memo, one reader has suggested that some evil Democrat should create and fund a Tea Party National Committee to draw votes away from Republicans in the 2012 election. That would be wrong, but the fact that’s it’s even possible should tell you something about the sheer weirdness of the situation. A quick search for some sort of national Tea Party website reveals a power vacuum being filled by varying degrees of crazy, ranging from an insane man named Dale who estimates the national debt at $105 trillion and urges his readers to stock up on precious metals and ammunition, to this anonymous website suspiciously resembling mine and apparently operated out of Rockford, Illinois, to Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which claims to derive its core values from sources including “the Bill of Rights as explained in the Federalist Papers.” I assume they do not mean Federalist No. 84, in which Alexander Hamilton argues passionately against including said Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
“While anger over economic issues sparked the [Tea Party] movement,” says CNN’s assessment of tensions within what passes for a national Tea Party, “it has come to represent anger in general.” I can think of no better articulation of the amorphous Tea Party position, nor any better explanation for why it should be ahead of the Grand Old Party in Rasmussen’s polls. The great advantage of the Tea Party, at this moment, is that it has no politicians, national organization or official position. What’s not to like? If your approach to politics is that all incumbents should be voted out of office, the Tea Party is perfect for you. If you’re against Social Security and also against the government taxing your Social Security benefits (as is the Rockford branch, according to their website,) if you believe that the Constitution does not empower Congress to create a Federal Reserve (as does Dale,) or if you think Obama has raised taxes, the Tea Party is for you. They’re the only party that has never added a penny to the national debt. They’re perfect and pure, like your husband is before you meet him.
The only demographic the Tea Party doesn’t appeal to is the so-called political class—those people who work in government, politics, or their attendant academic branches. In the Rasmussen poll, not one respondent from the political class said he or she would vote for a Tea Party candidate—possibly because members of the political class actually have some understanding of how government works, and know enough about PR to recognize a movement fabricated from whole cloth when they see it. CNN says the Tea Party was founded in anger, and I believe it. It’s a particular kind of anger, though, and it burns with the sort of white-hot incineration that only the indignation of the stupid can achieve.