Remember when the introduction of Congress’ Tea Party Caucus was considered an important development a couple of years ago? Well, forget it.
Two-odd months ago, I asked a Republican Hill staffer what had happened to the Tea Party Caucus. Launched with great fanfare in 2011, it was often cited in Michele Bachmann’s introductions on the presidential campaign trail – “she’s the founder of the Tea Party Caucus!” – and it brought luminaries like Antonin Scalia in to educate Republicans. At its height, the caucus had 60 members, but 10 of them lost their 2012 elections.
So how many members remained in the caucus?
“We are actually in the process of re-filing the caucus,” said the staffer.
As Dave Weigel noted, the caucus has gone from 60 to zero in the last two years, since the group effectively does not exist and has not held a meeting since July 2012.
Bachmann’s office reportedly hopes to get the old gang back together – there’s apparently a re-launch scheduled for April 15 – but it’s not all clear why she’d bother. The caucus never really served much of a purpose anyway.
Keep in mind, Tea Partiers – I’m hesitant to call their effort a “movement” since the activists never really had any kind of specific agenda or policy goals – are not at all popular with the American mainstream, with polls showing their favorability rating dropping precipitously in recent years. If Republicans are sincere about “rebranding,” telling voters about Congress’ Tea Party Caucus 2.0 is more likely to cause eye-rolling than excitement.
But let’s also not forget that the caucus isn’t necessary, either. It’s not just the fact that the activists already have Republican lawmakers’ ears – though they do – it’s also the fact that they’ve already had considerable success dragging the party even further to the right. It’s not as if the relative collapse of the Tea Party as a brand has led to GOP moderation.
Sure, there’s a growing fissure between the party establishment and its base, but that will remain the case whether there’s a new Tea Party Caucus or not.
In fact, at this point, I suspect the folks who’ll be the happiest about a congressional Tea Party Caucus re-launch are Democrats, who are eager to tell the public that in the wake of 2012, Republicans really haven’t changed much at all.