When the Tea Party movement coalesced in early 2009, political observers weren't sure how seriously to take it. While some right-leaning pundits thought (or hoped) it would develop into the potent political force it is today, other commentators dismissed the movement as a flash-in-the-pan — a retread of Ron Paul's libertarian presidential campaign, which sounded similar themes of Revolutionary-era defiance but stalled as a fringe effort. Here's a look back at some of the more (or less) prescient forecasts:
The Tea Party will impact the next two elections
Pundit: Glenn Reynolds in The Wall Street Journal (April 15, 2009) correctly predicted that the Tea Party, despite its organizers' inexperience, was tapping into a deeply rooted "general disgust" that had "drawn a lot of people off the sidelines" and would continue to do so.
Key quote: "Will these flash crowds be a flash in the pan? It's possible that people who demonstrate today will find that experience cathartic enough — or exhausting enough — that that will be it. But it's more likely that the tea-party movement will have an impact on the 2010 and 2012 elections, and perhaps beyond."
It's the same old GOP rhetoric, and Obama can deflect it
Pundit: Joe Conason in RealClearPolitics (April 16, 2009) incorrectly dismissed the Tea Party's talking points as tired propaganda that would have little effect on Barack Obama's approval ratings (then at 66 percent).
Key quote: "Buzzing beneath the furious rants of the tea-party protests, it is not hard to hear the same old right-wing rhetoric about taxes and deficits and the same old schemes to cut the taxes for the wealthiest citizens, deregulate the economy and despoil the environment. The difference...[is that now] we have suffered the results of those policies in practice and reject them...."
The establishment will distance itself
Pundit: David Weigel in The Washington Independent, (July 3, 2009) concluded, prematurely, that the GOP would safely be able to ignore the Tea Party.
Key quote: "In the run-up to the first round of Tea Parties, conservative activists were aided enormously by coverage from Fox News and the endorsements of many Republican stars.... But the collaboration between the official Republican establishment and the Tea Parties has not lasted into June. The RNC has no plans to get involved with any Tea Parties...."
The Tea Party might become "extremist"
Pundit: David Neiwert in Crooks and Liars (July 29, 2009) saw ominous signs in the behavior of Tea Party activists at a St. Louis townhall on health reform hosted by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and asked whether the movement was "morphing" into "street theater for the right," a relevant question given the Tea Party's subsequent health-care-related protests.
Key quote: "More disturbing, I thought, was the way the teabaggers used their numbers to shout down their opposition and generally intimidate the town-hall nature of the forum. What was supposed to have been an open discussion of the issues instead became a pushy shout-fest. That's not how democracy works."