The "tea party" label has outlived its usefulness

Is the tea party opposed to the Republican establishment or has it been co-opted by it? That’s also hard to say. The Tea Party Caucus no longer exists in a substantive way in the House. A group that called itself the Senate Tea Party Caucus did hold a meeting at some point last summer. The attendees included McConnell and McCain — those establishment stalwarts — who are therefore now listed as former members of the Tea Party Caucus at Wikipedia.

Perhaps it’s time to discourage the use of “tea party.” Or, at the very least, not to capitalize it as The New York Times and some other media organizations do. “Tea Party” looks better aesthetically than “tea party,” but triggers associations with a proper noun and risks misinforming the reader by implying that the tea party has a much more formal organizational infrastructure than it really does.

We got along perfectly well without the term. In 2006, nobody had a problem with describing Laffey as a “feisty conservative” challenger. In 2004, Rep. Pat Toomey, who nearly defeated Sen. Arlen Specter in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, was “a conservative who has attacked Mr. Specter as a Ted Kennedy liberal too supportive of abortion rights and the United Nations,” according to The New York Times. That gets the point across every bit as well as describing Toomey as a “Tea Party candidate,” as the Times would when he ran again (and won) in 2010.