ALBANY, NY - APRIL 13: A participant dressed as Uncle Sam attends a Tea Party Express rally on April 13, 2010 in Albany, New York. The Tea Party Express will head to Boston on Wednesday where the headline speaker at an afternoon rally will be Sarah Palin.The group will conclude its national tour in Washington, D.C. Thursday with a Tax Day rally at the Washington Monument. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Look at almost any state in the west and you'll see an election campaign in 2010 affected by the Tea Party. It's the movement that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Every place, that is, except California. Whatever the various political values that guide substantial elements of Californians, the Tea Party is not one. That's because California's far right has beaten them to the political punch.
The "Tea Party," of course, is not a political party with candidates seeking office. Rather, it is a loose collection of individuals with an equally loose set of anti-establishment ideas that focus on such wedge issue topics as illegal immigration, excessive government, over taxation, budget deficits, and government-run health care. In many cases, racism is also part of the Tea Party formula. Well, gee, many Californians on the right already embrace many of these ideas as core values. So why, then, haven't they become part of the Tea Party movement?
The answer is that many of those ideas are the essence of the Republican activist mantra and, as such, enjoy great presence and acceptance among many in the state. Just look back at the many protests that sprouted up at various congressional town hall meetings during the pre-tea party era summer of 2009 and the various Tea Party themes that were heard throughout the state. These themes are also played out among most Republicans in the state legislature as well as those elected to Congress. The point is, because Tea Party themes have such acceptance in California, there's no reason to try to supplant or replace those Republicans in power with Tea Party sympathizers. In effect, conservative Republicans here precede the movement.
Out of this comes good news and bad news for California's Republican party. The good news is that organizationally, the well-funded, well-organized Republican machinery here runs circles around the disjointed, fractured Tea Party "apparatus" elsewhere. The bad news is that because activist Republicans are so far to the right, they have a tough time capturing the large center.
That may change in 2010 if voters decide that Democrats have taken them down the wrong path. If so, California's conservative Republicans will have the same problem that enshrouds Tea Party activists elsewhere, namely finding a way to promote issues that people believe in, rather than simply criticizing things that people don't like.