DES MOINES, Iowa — Is the tea party getting its groove back? Shouts of vindication from around the country suggest the movement’s leaders certainly think so.
They say the IRS acknowledgement that it had targeted their groups for extra scrutiny – a claim that tea party activists had made for years – is helping pump new energy into the coalition. And they are trying to use that development, along with the ongoing controversy over the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks and the Justice Department’s secret seizure of journalists’ phone records, to recruit new activists incensed about government overreach.
“This is the defining moment to say ‘I told you so,’ “ said Katrina Pierson, a Dallas-based tea party leader, who traveled to Washington last week as the three political headaches for President Barack Obama unfolded.
Luke Rogonjich, a tea party leader in Phoenix, called the trio of controversies a powerful confluence that bolsters the GOP’s case against big government. “Suddenly, there are a lot of things pressing on the dam,” said Rogonjich.
It’s unclear whether a movement made up of disparate grassroots groups with no central body can take advantage of the moment and leverage it to grow stronger after a sub-par showing in last fall’s election had called into question the movement’s lasting impact. Republicans and Democrats alike say the tea party runs the risk of going too far in its criticism, which could once again open the door to Democratic efforts to paint it as an extreme arm of the GOP.
“Never underestimate the tea party’s ability to overplay its hand,” said Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. “Just because there is universal agreement that the IRS went too far, that should not be misread as acceptance of the tea party’s ideology of anger.”