Whither the Teabaggers?

Kevin Drum wonders how much longer the Tea Parties have before they flame out:

My take on the tea partiers is that they’re basically a 21st century version of the Birchers of the 60s. Except that where the Birchers had to rely on mimeograph machines to get out their message, the tea partiers have Fox News and the internet. At first glance, this is nothing but bad news: the Birchers were bad enough as it was, so just think what kind of damage they could have done with modern communications technology.

But maybe not! Being limited to flyers and PTA¬†meetings might have slowed the rise of the Birchers, but it also made them a fairly long-lived movement. The tea parties, conversely, skyrocketed to fame in just a few months. And we all know what happens to novelty acts that skyrocket to fame: most of them plummet back to earth within a year or two. We just get bored too quickly these days, and the media moves on to new things. So it’s possible that the tea parties peaked too fast and don’t have much longer to live. In fact, my sense is that the media is starting to get bored with them already.

They’ll certainly last through the November election, but I wonder if they’ll be able to keep up a head of steam much after that?

There’s really two questions here-how long can the teabaggers last and how long will the media remain interested-and the important thing to remember when answering the question is the same in both cases. At the end of the day, no predictions about the tea parties can be made without reminding yourself that there’s nothing all that special about the teabaggers. Rather, they’re just run of the mill right-wing talk¬†radio listeners who have taken to making a spectacle of themselves now that they’re in the opposition. So, in that sense, they’ll always be there, much as the talk radio audience and general right-wing fringe has always been there. How long will they be able to keep up the public spectacle of it all? I doubt that will last much longer, but I could be wrong, although I’m not sure that matters either way. I think it’s more important to keep in mind that much of the media coverage of the teabaggers has been driven by the fact that it was a non-election year, and so therefore anything that provided a narrative of overt conflict-with-theater was bound to attract media attention. But with an election in 2010, there’s less business attraction to the teabaggers for the cablers, and the tea parties will probably fade into the general noise of the election. They are the Republican base, after all, and I don’t really expect them to act much differently now than they ever have, or the media to cover them any differently. So once the campaign season really heats up, expect the tea parties to run out of steam, whether because the GOP fully co-opts it, or because the media loses interest, in which case I suspect most teabaggers will as well.