The Bus Whose Passengers Don’t Mind Running Off the Road

At TAP, Abby Rapoport reports on a new study of the Tea Party Movement and its relationship with the Republican Party by political scientists at William & Mary, based on a large sample of FreedomWorks members, that pretty much confirms my own impressions but may come as a shock to some people who think a whole lot has changed since 2010.

Its key conclusion is that Tea Folk dominate the rank-and-file Republican Party–representing about half its members and well over half of its activist energy (and probably primary voting)–but don’t much give a damn about the GOP as anything other than as an instrument for the advancement of their very conservative ideological views (on social as well as fiscal and economic policy). So prudential arguments about the health of the party or its prospects for winning won’t get you very far. Or to put it another way, the most loyal Republican voters aren’t really loyal to the party, but to its “principles,” which they invariably define as several steps to the right of its actual positions.

The study also suggests that on a number of issues (e.g., education, the environment, and jobs) non-Tea Party Republicans are actually closer to Democrats than to their Tea Party colleagues. This is a problem for Republicans and an obvious opportunity for Democrats if they can ever figure out a way to overcome the GOP’s super-heated reflexive partnership, which unites Tea and non-Tea Republicans more than ideology.

I plan to stare at this study some more, but to those under the illusion that the Tea Party Movement is dead or very small or “moderating,” the topline results don’t look good.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.