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Will the IRS scandal revive the Tea Party?
A widely disliked government tax-collection agency discriminating against an anti-tax political movement? It's a scandal tailor-made for the Tea Party.
A Tea Party activist during the movement's golden age in 2009.
A Tea Party activist during the movement's golden age in 2009. AP Photo/John Bazemore
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ea Party activists are pouncing on the IRS scandal — one of several that have sent the Obama administration into damage-control mode this week — and are calling for a full investigation.

A Treasury Department watchdog reported Tuesday that IRS employees singled out many groups, including those with "Tea Party" and "patriot" in their names, ahead of the 2010 and 2012 elections, although it found no evidence that anybody outside the IRS approved the policy. President Obama has slammed the IRS's behavior as "intolerable and inexcusable." "If you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous," Obama said.

Tea Partiers say the extra scrutiny from the IRS proves that their complaints about Big Government were valid all along. And the scandal comes at a fortuitous time for the small-government grassroots movement, which has seen its influence wane since it stormed onto the political stage in 2010.

So are we witnessing the rebirth of the Tea Party, just months after President Obama's re-election appeared to signal its demise? Some commentators are convinced we are. "The tea party is back," says Beth Reinhard at National Journal. She continues:

Perhaps the tea party's biggest victory in 2013 is not one that can be measured as succinctly as a law's repeal or a candidate's win. The swirl of Washington scandal offers the movement a kind of "I-told-you-so" bragging rights about the evils of government overreach that is frequently dismissed as conspiracy theories from the political fringe...

The impact of a rejuvenated tea party could be far-reaching. It could thwart passage of immigration reform by inflaming skepticism about enforcement of the bill’s border security provisions. Tea party activists could reshape the 2014 elections and boost like-minded potential presidential candidates like Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas over GOP establishment rivals. [National Journal]

It's hard to deny that the IRS controversy has focused renewed attention on the Tea Party. The question is what difference this will make in Washington. Conservatives expect it to translate into a fundraising bonanza for Tea Party groups, as well as a big morale boost for the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who the activist movement helped elect. It could also energize the Tea Party's old opposition to ObamaCare, as the health care law calls for an expansion of the IRS.

Still, predicts Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post, that won't be enough to propel the weakened movement to victory.

The reality is that ObamaCare isn't going to be repealed with a Democratic Senate and White House. But given that even members of the president's own party have been raising concerns in recent weeks about the law's implementation, a rejuvenated Tea Party assault against the measure would be a political blow to Democrats. The last thing Obama needs right now is to play more defense when he is trying to get his second-term legislative agenda through Congress amid numerous distractions. [Washington Post]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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