GOP Empire's Plan to Crush Tea Party Rebels

A step-by-step guide to coopting a movement

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The Republican establishment is no longer terrified of the Tea Party, The New York Times' Matt Bai reports. It's now figured out how to absorb them like a slow-moving but powerful star that's swelling into a red giant. How to take these political hooligans over? There are a couple steps.

Step 1: The first rule of the establishment is: Do not admit you are part of the establishment! Bai talked to Fred Malek, a longtime Republican fundraiser who now raises money for the Republican Governors Association. He has photos of himself with various presidents on his wall.
Malek belongs to the Alfalfa Club, whose 200 or so members, the old-line political and business aristocracy in both parties, expect the president to attend their annual dinner, and he occasionally gives exclusive parties at his home overlooking the Potomac River in McLean, Va. -- including one in 2009 that brought together Sarah Palin and the party’s Washington elite.
“You think I’m an establishment Republican?” Malek asked me.
When I said that I did, he let forth a lyrical string of expletives that, sadly, are not printable here. “My dad drove a beer truck delivering beer to taverns in Cicero and Chicago, Ill.,” he said. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college. No, I don’t consider myself part of the establishment.”
Bai adds, "George Will recently said there is no such thing as the Republican establishment." George Will wears a bow tie. He wears a bow tie so much he's on Wikipedia's "List of bow tie wearers." He started wearing bow ties as an anti-hippie statement in the 1960s and now, when he doesn't wear one, people ask him where his bow tie is. You can't get away with wearing a bow tie if you're not part of the Republican establishment.
Step 2: Disarm them with praise. Republican lobbyist Scott Reed tells Bai that the Tea Party's influence is "waning," because Republican leaders have embraced the Tea Partying members of Congress, instead of calling them "those people."
Did he mean to say that the party was slowly co-opting the Tea Partiers?
“Trying to,” Reed said. “And that’s the secret to politics: trying to control a segment of people without those people recognizing that you’re trying to control them.”
Step 3: Moderate whoever they pick as the 2012 nominee. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tells Bai that the Republican presidential nominee merely has to be conservative enough.
Kristol told me just after Perry entered the race, a development that essentially ended [the more radical Michele] Bachmann’s brief ascent. Establishment Republicans may prefer Romney to Perry, but their assumption is that either man can be counted on to steer the party back toward the broad center next fall, effectively disarming the Tea Party mutiny.
Step 4: Teach them about compromise. Vin Weber, who was elected to Congress in 1980, was "part of a group of rebellious young conservatives who rose up against their affable minority leader, Bob Michel," Bai explains. Weber was "the Bachmann of his day," Bai says, and Weber tepidly agrees. But he's trying to teach them what he learned about Washington since he first arrived 30 years ago.
“I think I know what they want to accomplish, and I agree with most of it,” [Weber] said. “But if they want to accomplish it, they need to ‘rise to the level of politics.’ I mean, you can’t just stand there and take a stand and say, ‘I’m not going to compromise on my position.’ Because you won’t achieve anything.” 
Likewise, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whom many wished would run for president, told a conservative conference earlier this year, "Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers."
Step 5: Never forget reality. Say all the nice things you want about the activists, but don't forget who's really running the show. Lobbyists and former House aide John Feehery told Bai, "The thing I get a kick out of is these Tea Party folks calling me a RINO ... No, guys, I’ve been a Republican all along. You go off into your own little world and then come back and say it’s your party. This ain’t your party."
Given all the comparisons between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests, liberals should take note. The New Republic has a new editorial condemning the activists in lower Manhattan for their silly utopian ideals. It would be smarter to follow the Weekly Standard's strategy: pat them on the head and praise them for caring so much, then use their energy to pass your standard center-left legislation.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.