From E.J. Dionne at Post Partisan at The Washington Post:
I don’t think Rep. Michele Bachmann, the very right-wing Republican from Minnesota, is doing her party any favors by creating a Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. In fact, I imagine that this is the first thing Bachmann has done in a long time that will make Democrats happy.
Not surprisingly, Bachmann declared herself chair of the caucus, for which she filed paperwork on Thursday.
“This caucus will espouse the timeless principles of our founding, principles that all Members of Congress have sworn to uphold,” she declared. “The American people are doing their part and making their voices heard and this caucus will prove that there are some here in Washington willing to listen.”
What? No penetrating exposé that will take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America, or anti-America? I’m disappointed. But let’s continue…
That last part, about proving that “there are some here in Washington willing to listen,” is what I suspect will make many Republicans nervous. This will put a lot of people on the line, and force some into an unappetizing choice.
A lot of Republicans would like the Tea Party to rally as many right-of-center voters to the polls as possible but not have to take any responsibility for the movement’s more radical stands or the unseemly rhetoric that issues from some of its supporters. (That now-infamous billboard in Iowa made even some Tea Party people unhappy.)
Bachmann’s move will make it harder for them to avoid the question of whether they are with the Tea party or against it. Those Republicans who do sign up could turn off more moderate voters. Those who don’t might have to worry about future primaries supported by the Tea Party. We’ve already seen how even very conservative Republicans — Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah is Exhibit No. 1 – can be declared not-right-enough by these folks.
Bennett himself issued a warning to his fellow Republicans about the Tea Party in an interview with the Associated Press. “With the tea party creating the mischief that it is in Colorado, we may not win that seat,” he said. “My sources in Nevada say with Sharon ([em>sic] Angle there’s no way Harry Reid loses in Nevada,” he said about the Tea Party Republican challenging the Senate’s Democratic majority leader.
He added that Rand Paul, another Tea Party favorite, could lose the Republicans what had looked like a safe seat in Kentucky. But Bennett credited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with “pulling [Paul] back from some of his more dangerous statements.”
The clearest sign of Tea Party damage to the G.O.P. was a Mason-Dixon poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal released today. It lends support to what Bennett’s sources in Nevada have told him.
So at the very moment many Republicans are trying to figure out how to finesse the Tea Party, Bachmann is setting out to make the finesse a little bit harder. You wonder if some in her party will try to talk her out of forming her new caucus. Very quietly, of course.