The Fox News host used his TV and radio shows to launch vicious verbal attacks on the newly elected senator. “I want a chastity belt on this man,” Beck laughingly said the morning after Brown’s epic victory over Democrat Martha Coakley. “I want his every move watched in Washington. I don’t trust this guy. This one could end with a dead intern.” Just in case the audience had somehow missed his suggestion that Brown was capable of having an affair with, and then murdering, a female intern, Beck repeated the line.
What is going on here? Why are the tea partyers turning on their own? Like any nascent populist movement, the tea party was born of deep skepticism and dissatisfaction with the status quo. As it turns out, many of its most passionate and vocal members seem just as mistrusting of each other as they are of the federal government. This is one reason we have been stuck with two dominant political parties for so long: creating durable political institutions is hard. Most—like Perot’s populist wave in the 1990s—fail in their infancy. Riven with internal conflicts and lacking a coherent structure, the tea party’s biggest challenge may be trying to deal with its own success. Victories are sure to lie ahead for the group in this fall’s midterm elections. After all, without Obama on the ticket, those who vote will be older, whiter, and fewer in number than they were in 2008. And that will likely be bad news for Democratic candidates who were swept into Republican-leaning seats during George W. Bush’s disastrous second term.