There are always second acts in American political lives.
While the controversy over the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups that started in 2010 has dropped out of the mainstream media recently, a front-page article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal is a reminder of how much the IRS assault on the democratic process hurt the tea party movement (enough to swing the 2012 election maybe).
And how much its revelation has helped the tea party bounce back.
The article is pegged on Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, who rose to such prominence on the tea party’s success in electing a Republican House of Representatives in 2010 that Time magazine named her among the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
The tea party as a movement and the Tea Party Patriots in particular, was an established force in American politics. (Martin is on a first-name basis with tea-party lawmakers like Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.) But it had a problem:
“The Patriots didn’t have tax-exempt status, a disincentive to some potential donors,” the Journal reported. “The group had applied for such status in late 2010 but says it had heard nothing from the IRS during all of 2011.”
That hurt its fundraising, which in turn hurt its activism. And the Tea Party Patriots weren’t the only ones. Other tea party groups were getting the same treatment. “It was harassment, pure and simple, to weaken us going into the 2012 election,” Martin told the Journal.
“I kept telling everyone — including the big donors who wouldn’t give to us without our nonprofit status — that the IRS appeared to be targeting tea-party groups,” Martin said. “But no one believed us.”
And it worked. Smaller groups ended up dropping out of the battle, which appeared to be the strategy.
And Barack Obama was re-elected president of the United States.
In winter of 2012, the tea party seemed like a spent force to many, including top Republican strategists. But then the scandal broke in May, with the revelation that the IRS had deliberately targeted conservative groups in the years between 2010 and 2012.
“From that moment, the tea party has roared back to life,” Martin told the Journal. “It’s been nonstop interest from the media, politicians and our grass roots.”
That might not be good news for everyone in the Republican Party.
There are battles ahead on immigration, foreign policy, and how best to fight Obamacare; primaries that will be won or lost. But debating about issues, fighting over ideas is what health political parties do.
The tea party’s new strength is definitely bad news for Democrats.