I didn’t quite understand why Bachmann felt the need for one in the House and I understand this even less. It’s good retail politics to wave the TP flag, I guess, but the point of a caucus is to try to keep the members together to vote as a bloc as a way of maximizing ideological leverage over legislation. There ain’t much leverage with only three members, though, particularly when all three of these guys are already mortal locks to vote the same way on every fiscal matter to come down the pike. And since all three are already heroes to tea partiers, they don’t need to fly the Gadsden flag in the Senate to stay on their good side.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Friday announced the formation of a new Senate Tea Party Caucus, taking a formal step toward uniting members of the movement in the 112th Congress.

Paul and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) will be the group’s inaugural members, according to a joint statement released by Paul’s office.

“Republicans in the Senate have already made a pledge to end earmarks and fight for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Paul said in the statement. “By joining with my fellow Senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as grassroots groups who see the need for government reform, the caucus will work to enact real change to protect our country and its taxpayers from an ever-expanding government.”…

The caucus is slated to hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. on Jan. 27, two days after the Senate reconvenes following a two-and-a-half-week break.

There are two reasons for this, I assume. One is that it’s a sounding board for grassroots tea partiers to make their concerns known to honest-to-goodness senators. And indeed, rank-and-file TPers will be present at the inaugural meeting. But do Paul, Lee, or DeMint really require instruction as to the base’s thinking? They’re perfectly in sync with it already; that’s how they attained hero status. This feels more like an exercise in good optics, i.e. inviting grassroots conservatives into the corridors of power, than some meaningful strategy session. Two: Having an official “tea party” brand for their coordinated action could be useful as a way to pressure Snowe, Brown, and other vulnerable RINOs on key votes. Remember, DeMint’s promised that he won’t oppose any GOP incumbents in the primaries in 2012 — but if the “Tea Party Caucus” issues a statement saying how “disappointed” it is in, say, Orrin Hatch for voting a certain way on a certain bill, that’ll be a signal to the base that it’s primary time. Does the base really need any signaling, though? They’re going to primary Hatch, Snowe, Lugar, et al. no matter what, right?

Exit question: Aren’t there a few people conspicuously missing from the membership rolls? Hmmm. And hmmmmm.