In a recent interview, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, sounded like he was flirting with the Tea Party movement as an actual alternative to the Republican Party. He told ABC's Rick Klein: "I think the Republicans have to realize they're not operating in a vacuum. Now, while Democrats may be in trouble coming into November's election, the Republicans are not the only game in town."
Whether Perkins or someone like him actually would actively encourage third-party alternatives is almost immaterial. The fact is, he said it, it's getting attention, and there's surely no shortage of folks willing to make a name for themselves as the Tea Party candidate in one race or another. We're already seeing candidates (running as Republicans) claiming the Tea Party seal of approval in primaries across the country. In fact, during the recent Florida senatorial debate between Republicans Gov. Charlie Crist and the aforementioned Rubio, a question was raised about whether Rubio, the hottest ticket nationally for the GOP, had it. Such talk of Tea Party imprimaturs are technically meaningless to anyone actually paying attention, as honest Tea Party organizers will tell you -- because the whole point of the movement has not been to start a formal party or to be a central organizing force. So, sure, anyone, actually, can call himself a Tea Partier and say he doesn't like one candidate or another. But the political clout is lacking.
But that could change if the RNC doesn't get its act together. At the Tea Party events I've attended, the guy who is clamoring to ditch the Republican Party may also try to tell you his theories on Elvis' continued existence - to put it kindly, he's distinctly on the fringe. Polls have been bearing out what conversations or a walk around these events could tell you: Tea Partiers are Americans who line up with what tend to be Republican platforms. The Tea Party could be an electoral godsend for Republicans: energized voters -- some returning to electoral participation after a long, disillusioned absence -- with whom they have a lot in common. That is, unless seemingly undisputed bad management at the RNC continues to keep trouble brewing.