The House Tea Party Caucus gets to work

THE HOUSE TEA PARTY CAUCUS GETS TO WORK…. There’s been ample evidence of late that the overlap between the so-called Tea Party “movement” and the Republican Party’s far-right base is overwhelming. They are, in effect, one and the same.

The intersection of Tea Party politics and Republican politics became even more dramatic yesterday, with the formal launch of the House Tea Party Caucus, led by frightening right-wing Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R). Dana Milbank had a good report on the kickoff event.

There and then — on the Capitol grounds 104 days before the midterm elections — Tea Party activists and Republican officeholders set aside any pretense about the two groups being separate. They essentially consummated a merger: The activists allowed themselves to be co-opted by a political party, and the Republican leaders allowed themselves to become the faces of the movement.

Naturally, both protested that nothing of the sort was occurring…. With a dozen House Republicans surrounding her, Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, announced that her group “wanted to make sure the people in Congress don’t become a mouthpiece for the movement.”

Sorry, ladies. When Tea Party leaders join Republican lawmakers for a private strategy session followed by a campaign rally in the shadow of the Capitol, each has essentially endorsed the other.

As the overlap becomes formalized, Republicans may want to remember what it is the party is enveloping. At yesterday’s gathering, Mark Meckler, a leader of a group called the Tea Party Patriots, tried to distance their efforts from “fringe” elements.

Soon after, speakers at the rally accused Democrats of “21st-century Marxism,” compared President Obama to Hugo Chavez, and complained bitterly about “socialism.”

That, we’re supposed to believe, isn’t “fringe” at all.

We also learned yesterday precisely what Republicans/Tea Partiers are concerned about when it comes to their collective public image: “Members of the freshly minted House Tea Party Caucus spent their first day trying to quash accusations that they represent a racist movement.” Given the frequency with which it came up, the right-wing activists seem pretty sensitive about the allegations. (One speaker insisted, “We are not terrorists,” though I’m not sure anyone has accused this crowd of terrorism.)

As for the caucus itself, as of late yesterday, the House Tea Party Caucus reportedly has 29 members, with a membership list that’s nearly identical to that of the right-wing Republican Study Committee. There is, however, some ongoing controversy on this front — some of the members included on Bachmann’s list of caucus members hadn’t formally given their permission to be included in the group.

Sounds like they’re off to a good start.