Well, what do you know? Chris Matthews seems to finally be waking up after all of this time to something that most of us and his guest Joan Walsh here have been more than well aware of for some time now -- that the "tea party' is nothing but a
August 18, 2011

Well, what do you know? Chris Matthews seems to finally be waking up after all of this time to something that most of us and his guest Joan Walsh here have been more than well aware of for some time now -- that the "tea party' is nothing but a rebranding of the far right-wing of the Republican Party that has been with us for ages now. Or at least that's what Matthews wants his audience to believe.

How he could just now be coming around to this is beyond me since most of us didn't need the New York Times to write an article about this topic to have it be as obvious as the nose on anyone's face just who these people are. Personally I think Matthews or anyone else in our media that talks about this article in the New York Times and pretends like they didn't already know what this astrotuf movement was, is feigning ignorance.

Joan Walsh made some similar points in her column she wrote after the segment aired -- Getting to know the Tea Party:

It's the GOP's white conservative base in silly costumes. Why couldn't the media figure that out sooner?

Scholar Robert Putnam, best known for his study of American atomization in "Bowling Alone," has produced new data on the Tea Party and it's being billed as a shocker. Sit down before you read this: They are older, white conservative Christians "who were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born."

Not surprised? Neither was I, but the research is actually fascinating. Putnam and Notre Dame's David Campbell tracked the role of faith and politics for their last book, "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us." They went back to look at attitudes toward the Tea Party among 3,000 survey respondents for the paperback edition, and wrote an Op-Ed in Wednesday's New York Times. Read on...

I would disagree that the media didn't figure that out sooner. I think the media was a willing accomplice to the rebranding effort and all of them knew full well what they were doing, as I've said before here more times than I can count -- they were helping to get the Bush-stink off of the Republican brand. And they all knew full well this was no grass roots movement, but one sponsored by the usual suspects and big monied insiders in the Republican Party.

Digby weighed in on the article in the New York Times on these "tea partiers" as well here -- Tarnished Tea Cozy :

I recall being on a panel at some confab a couple of years ago, at the the height of the Tea party boom, talking about the fact that these people were simply the usual suspects in new costumes. People in the audience were reluctant to believe this, wanting to have this group be evidence of a new, trans-partisan populist wave that could be appropriated by the left with the proper appeals. I was skeptical --- these folks the same types as the 1963 housewife Rick Perlstein famously quotes in "Before the Storm" saying "I just don't have time for anything, I'm fighting communism three times a week." (He wrote about it here.)

After the panel, reporters Adele Stan and Sarah Posner approached me and pointed out that we'd failed to make the point that these were also the usual suspects of the religious right, and they were correct. The social conservatives had put their usual obsessions in their back pockets upon the inauguration of the Democratic black president, but scratch the surface and you found that most of the activists had cut their teeth in the home schooling or anti-abortion movements. Indeed, it was obvious that the Christian Right and Conservative Movement as a whole had simply re-branded themselves The Tea Party. Considering how sick people were of hearing from those people, it was probably a good idea.

The NY Times issued a poll in April of 2010 that pretty much confirmed what we had earlier sensed. Today they print a follow up piece on the subject featuring a new study:

Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously — isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

There you have it. And what are the implications of this? According to these authors, their study shows that the country is growing much more economically conservative but care much less about social issues which means that the overt religious appeals of candidates like Bachmann and Perry are turning off mainstream voters. Read on...

I weighed in on just who was showing up at these "tea party" protests back in April of 2010 when I posted Cenk Uygur debating one of these Libertarian wingnuts, Wayne Allyn Root, and Cenk was trying to get him to explain why these people weren't showing up and protesting Wall Street.

At the time I did not qualify my description with noting that the parts I described of who was attending these events were not equal in size as to their numbers, but that said, I don't think anyone could describe these people as anything other than being to the far right of either the Republican Party, or just Libertarians, who are as Thom Hartmann describes them, pretty much just Republicans who want to smoke pot -- and a group who's dream of a perfect country where their ideals have been put into practice are Somalia or Pakistan. Here's what I said back then about who I saw showing up at these "tea party" protests:

This tea party movement is one part Dick Armey and company fake astroturf protest, one part angry McCain and Palin soreloserman, one part abortion clinic protester, one part white nationalist militia movement/gun rights nuts, one part ClusterFox/Glenn Beck brain dead watcher, one part anti-immigration Lou Dobbs/Tom Tancredo fan, one part southern racist that isn't done fighting the Civil War yet and one part Ron Paul/Libertarian.

What could ever go wrong with that special blend of tea?

As I said, you can argue proportions, which is not the point I was trying to make then either, but I don't think you can argue about who these groups are that the astroturfers out there decided to take advantage of.

Rachel Maddow's done a great job of calling out the funding behind these groups while Matthews continues to have people like Matt Kibbe and Tim Phillips and Dick Armey on his show and never says boo to them about the money behind their "movement." I find it laughable that he's just now pretending to realize what one of their goals have been, which is to pretend there's some real movement for a third party that doesn't exist and to allow Republicans to call themselves "tea party" when they're not registering and running under that party affiliation.

I hope Joan Walsh brings that up to him the next time he has her on since she at least got a chance to make some really good points during this interview about how these are just the usual suspects that have been with us for a very long time on the far right fringes of the Republican Party. Now, sadly it seems, they've taken that party over and our media continues to try to mainstream them instead of marginalizing them as they deserve.

Full transcript of the segment is available here.

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