Nate Silver is only half right about the "tea party" label

This is all right, but it’s also what the mainstream media has been doing when it comes to the “tea party” since its inception. The use of the label “tea party” has almost always been meaningless in a purely electoral context. “The Tea Party” is something that should never have been capitalized by the mainstream media – there’s no official campaign apparatus, no way of endorsement, no hierarchy in which to officially settle disagreements.

“The tea party” was always a loose collection of Americans who banded together to protest policies implemented at the beginning of the Obama era – bailouts, stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank. The primary disagreements between outsider candidates and the “GOP establishment” now is about tactics, not policy. If we are to say that people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are “tea party” type Republicans, it’s because they are willing to risk a lot of political capital in order to push through a GOP agenda – filibusters, budget disagreements, etc. – despite their minority status.

This isn’t new, though. In the first elections after tea parties began happening, we saw people like Scott Brown and Marco Rubio win surprising victories in a wave of grassroots conservative energy. They’ve got only a tenuous connection with what we might call “outsider conservatives” at this point.

The “tea party” was always about a grassroots energy that the GOP machine tried to translate into electoral victory.