Dems eye a Tea Party wedge

DEMS EYE A TEA PARTY WEDGE…. As you may have heard, the Democratic National Committee launched a new message campaign yesterday, called the “Republican-Tea Party Contract With America.” The point is probably obvious: Dems intend to remind voters that when it comes to issues, priorities, and agendas, the Republican Party and the Tea Party zealots are effectively “one and the same.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and several Democratic House members today unveiled the new Democratic midterm attack plan against Republicans: GOP = Tea Party.

In an effort to demonstrate what they see as the dangers of Republican Congressional control, Democrats will spend the next few months until Election Day trying to tie all Republicans to policies advocated by some members of the Tea Party, including repealing the health care and Wall Street reform laws, abolishing the Departments of Labor and Education and the EPA, and ending Medicare.

Kaine said the DNC has an “aggressive” plan, along with the White House “to make sure the American people know what the Republicans really believe what their blueprint for governing is,” tracking candidates’ comments on the campaign trail, distributing research, and airing commercials nationwide.

The initiative included the unveiling of a new video, highlighting the kind of specific policy efforts the country can expect from the “Republican-Tea Party Contract.”

At first, I was a little skeptical about this tack. To be sure, the charge is accurate. My skepticism, though, has to do with public awareness — do enough Americans even know about Tea Partiers’ extremism? Or are we still at a point where Americans hear “Tea Party,” and think of Boston colonists in 1773?

Presumably, the DNC has extensive polling data on this, which likely shows the American mainstream — especially self-described “independents” and swing voters — turned off by Tea Partiers’ radicalism. Which leads to the stronger part of the Democrats’ plan: it puts Republicans on the defensive.

Indeed, yesterday, GOP leaders were quick to denounce, and sometimes even mock, the new Democratic effort. But when reporters asked if the DNC’s charges are true — in other words, whether Republicans and Tea Partiers really are one and the same, with an identical right-wing agenda — those same GOP leaders suddenly felt shy.

An RNC spokesperson “would not say whether the RNC disagrees with any of the 10 agenda items.” A wide variety of Republican officials were quick to respond to the DNC’s initiative, but not one was prepared to “refute specific points.”

That’s not surprising. When Dems insist Republicans and Tea Partiers are identical, GOP officials can either (a) disagree, and offend their base; or (b) embrace the criticism, and risk turning off everyone else.

Looking at the big picture, Dems have struggled to settle on a specific campaign theme. “Party of No” was dubious, in part because Republicans seem to like it. The ideal for the DNC, then, is to figure out how to characterize Republicans as the “party of crazy.” Equating them with anti-government zealots and wild-eyed conspiracy cranks might just do the trick.

Marc Ambinder explained the strategy this way: “The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They’ve embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask.”