As the progressive wing of the Democratic Party threatened to derail the cromnibus in order stop further weakening of campaign finance and Wall Street regulations, it became fashionable in some circles to call Elizabeth Warren and her ilk the “Ted Cruz” or “Tea Party of the left.” This phrase and similar ones are usually said with a sneer, as if the danger and stupidity of a such a thing were obvious on its face.
But is it? The problem with the hyperconservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party isn’t its tactics, but rather its policies. Washington establishment and cocktail party circuit types love to focus on process and tone rather than on policy. The Tea Party is bad, we’re supposed to believe, because they say mean things, or because they play hardball in their negotiating, or because they’re willing to engage in histrionics just to a make a point, or because they’re willing to primary longtime members for the sake of ideological purity.
Which is just to say there is a lot of room for liberals/progressives to maneuver. The Tea Party has been fairly successful electorally; their tactics have often borne out. They’re succeeded in replacing a lot of conservative politicians with extremely conservative politicians. So why can’t Democrats do the same? Shouldn’t we? Use the tactics of the Tea Party, but promote sane policies instead of conservative or pro-bank legislation.
The trick here is that Tea Party tactics rely on not only pre-existing anger, but also relies on the Republican Party having a strong “ground game.” There were scores of local candidates ready and willing to take up the mantle of being a Tea Party politician when the movement emerged.
I am less sure the Democrats have that kind of network in place, although I live in a red part of a red state so I can’t say for certain. And it is just as big a part of the puzzle as promoting good policy.