Another word about Haley Barbour's op-ed on the Tea Party in today's Wall Street Journal: Barbour makes a point here that's been made again and again by critics of the Tea Party--that Tea Partiers are basically just Republicans.

Tea party voters are not only motivated by the effect these terrible policies are having on them--they are worried about America's future. They fear that their children and grandchildren won't inherit the same country they inherited from their parents and grandparents. What they know with certainty is that future generations will be saddled with paying back the trillions in debt that the Obama administration and Congress are running up with so little positive result.

Replace "tea party" with "Republican" in every instance above, and each description would remain totally accurate. On the issues foremost in voters' minds--the economy, jobs, spending, taxes, debt and deficits--the overwhelming majority of tea party voters and Republican voters are in strong agreement.

It's a truth that's been borne out by poll after poll that tell us Tea Partiers, by and large, identify themselves as Republican voters. In July, Gallup found that 79 percent of self-identified supporters of the Tea Party (not the same as participants in the movement) call themselves Republicans.

Barbour isn't making this point to criticize the Tea Party. He's making it, I'd guess, because a) it's true, b) it's in the Republican Party's best interest for it to be true, c) he's a member of the Republican establishment, and d) he may or may not run for president in 2012.

Barbour isn't just right about voters: the convergence extends to candidates. It's become basically impossible to separate "Tea Party" candidates from Republican candidates, because every smart Republican candidate checks all the Tea Party boxes these days. They meet with local Tea Party groups, make taxes and government debt a central focus of their campaigns, and often support the repeal of health care and sometimes financial reform.

Perhaps the difference between Tea Partiers and Republicans is mostly about style, rather than substance. One group waves yellow flags; the other doesn't.


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