Let’s start with this number: one-third. Depending on which question you go by, according to recent polls, around one of three American voters sympathize, empathize or otherwise endorse the efforts of the Tea Party. Granted, NBC points out in its poll with the Wall Street Journal, released this week, that of the 41% of voters who say they support the Tea people, 75% get their news from Glenn Beck and FOX News. An AP-GfK poll released last weekend says that one quarter of potential voters “called themselves supporters of the conservative tea party movement.”
Enter Rand Paul, the new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, with his election victory “message from the Tea Party,” saying, “We have come to take our government back.” The message goes even deeper than that. The Tea Party movement thrives on its marginalization by the “establishment,” and we dismiss the group at the peril of all that is civil about America.
Before the sun was even cracking the horizon in Appalachia Wednesday morning, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had issued a press release critical of what it called Paul’s “out-of-touch views to the general election electorate in Kentucky.” It seems to me, that is exactly what got him elected – his out of touch views. Even his missteps with Rachel Maddow the next night only made the revolutionary tea baggers appreciate him even more.
Compare the DSCC’s attempt to thwart Paul’s momentum with that of his challenger in the GOP primary race, the McConnell backed Trey Grayson. Grayson issued one television ad accusing Paul of wanting to “hide his strange ideas.” Senator McConnell issued an ad saying, “I know Trey Grayson and trust him.” Trust from someone as inside Washington as the Senate minority leader doesn’t go very far in an election where there is a pervasive, irrational loathing of incumbency. Despite the fact that Grayson even had the endorsement of Dick Cheney, he was just too “establishment.”
“A lot of the things we [in the Tea Party] talk about are a chastisement to both parties,” Paul told CBS News on Tuesday, before the polls closed, and both parties – like Wall Street before the collapse – are blind to the threatening rhetoric from those who walk in lockstep with Glenn Beck.
They would be wise to heed the words of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D), who told CNN, “It was an anti-incumbency vote across the nation. If you ran against Washington, you did well.”
That anti-Washington sentiment, and telling voters their candidates are outside the mainstream, will only embolden and strengthen their willingness to confront the status quo, now that the Tea Partiers have a face in the race.