Democrats overwhelmingly believe that the tea party's influence will wane and that the electorate is going to swing back in their direction next year. "People don't like what they've seen in 200 days of Republicans in charge [of the House of Representatives]," said one Democratic Congressional Insider. "If the economy crashes due to a default, it will be a scarlet letter 'T' for any Member associated [with it]," predicted another.
Other Democrats said that the momentum behind a political movement like the tea party inevitably ebbs. "Just like MoveOn, they will suffer from the same disappointment and fatigue that all newcomers to politics encounter," said a Democratic Insider. Another said that the tea party was still a "force to be reckoned with, but its energy is much diminished."
And a few Democrats were contemptuous of the tea party troops, whether they thought they would be more or less of a force in 2012. "Hopefully, most will have been institutionalized by then," said one Democratic Insider who thought their impact would decrease. But another who thought they would be more of a force asserted, "As long as we have a Black president, the Tea Party will exist. Their sole goal is to bring President Obama down."
Some Republican Members seemed to chafe under the tea party supporters' dogmatism. "They have already lost about half of their followers because they spend so much time 'holding Republicans accountable' and demanding purity instead of going after Democrats," said one GOP Congressional Insider. Another echoed, "People are beginning to realize that the Tea Party has overreached and causing more harm than good. We can't govern with an ideological gun to our heads no matter which side of the aisle is pointing it."
Other Republicans felt that the movement would alienate swing voters. "The tea party is increasing the heat to deal with spending," said one GOP Congressional Insider. "But the tea tastes more bitter than average voters expected which will limit their appeal."
And some Republicans simply felt that their influence in a presidential election year is bound to be less. "The higher the turnout, the less important the tea party is," said one GOP Member. "And turnout will be very high in 2012."
But other Republicans welcomed the movement's role. "The tea party succeeded in bringing back small government principles into the public consciousness," said one GOP Congressional Insider. "Unless they burn out their troops by engaging in every sneeze and cough in Washington, they will be motivated beyond belief," predicted another.
At the same time, even those who thought the movement would be more of a force in 2012 had some reservations about its clout. "The tea party is well intentioned, but absolute positions lead to misguided targets," said one GOP Congressional Insider. Another echoed that the tea party "needs to be careful: the Sharron Angle types stood in the doorway of a GOP [Senate] majority [in 2010]."
The National Journal Congressional Insiders Poll is a regular anonymous survey of Democratic and Republican members of Congress.