Weak tea

WEAK TEA…. When the political landscape features a fairly large number of confused, easily-manipulated conservatives, who enjoy the enthusiastic backing of an entire cable news network and corporate-backed lobbying groups, it’s fair to think their collective efforts will have at least some relevance.

But as far as political movements go, the Tea Party crowd — with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no meaningful connection to reality — is running into some trouble.

The national tea party movement has never had a central organization or single leader; in fact, it has boasted the opposite. But Tuesday’s primary results provided fresh evidence of the amorphous network’s struggle to convert activist anger and energy into winning results. Frustrated and lacking agreement on what to do next, self-identified tea party leaders say the movement may be in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together.

It certainly doesn’t help that the American mainstream is growing less impressed with the nascent right-wing initiative. The national Washington Post/ABC News poll has asked Americans if they have “a favorable or unfavorable impression of the political movement known as the Tea Party.” Just three months ago, 41% had a favorable impression, while 39% had a negative one. Last week, the same poll found 36% with a favorable impression, and 50% with a negative one.

Kevin Drum summarized the problem nicely: “Who could have predicted that a cranky, leaderless movement with no real goals and driven mostly by an inchoate sense of persecution, aggrievement, and Sarah Palin hero worship would eventually turn in on itself and splinter into a thousand embittered little pieces?”

For my money, I still think the Tea Partiers’ biggest problem is not having an agenda. I’m not exactly an expert in the intricacies of political movements, but as I understand it, successful movements tend to have clearly-defined goals. The Tea Partiers have offered hysterical tirades for well over a year now, and no one can say with any certainty exactly what these folks actually want.

It’s not too late, I suppose, for the effort to become more coherent and better organized, but infighting and splintering seems to make that kind of progress unlikely.