Tea time?

With the Iowa caucuses behind us and the New Hampshire primary ahead, let’s take stock of one of the relative newcomers to Washington politics.

The Tea Party rose to prominence with President Barack Obama’s election and the ensuing fight over health insurance reform. Powered by right-wing grassroots passion and Astroturf big money, the collection of groups claiming the Tea Party label has surely changed the political landscape of what President Obama now calls the “do-nothing” Congress, but are they here to stay? The darling of the party, Michelle Bachmann, called it quits after her sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, leaving us questioning  the staying power of this loosely organized group.

The Tea Party, or at least its guiding principles, has been around for a long time. Of course, there are the movement’s historical precedent and patriotic values, but it has undoubtedly gained momentum in recent years.  The late Kentucky politician Gatewood Galbraith, when welcomed into a Tea Party meeting not long ago, reportedly responded  “What are you talking about? I’ve been here for 30 years. Where have you people been?”  So, should we get used to the Tea Party or will they fade away like so many third-party political pressure groups?

Ronald P. Formisano’s The Tea Party certainly gives us clues. In it he probes the remarkable rise of the movement and its powerful impact on American politics. We can definitely expect to see the party’s influence as we enter this presidential election year. Whether it becomes a mainstay in American politics is another question.