There is quite a few progressives, liberals, and the like out there that claim that the Tea Party, in all its craziness, ranging from birthers to social security haters to climate change deniers, is simply a one-off, last-ditch attempt by the Republicans to re-establish themselves after being routed heavily by the Democrats, one that will cost them some much needed seats and wins.
I'm far from one to defend the Tea Party, but this view, still prevalent so late in the game, is one that is built more in willful naivety than it is in fact. The reality is, the Tea Party represents a major threat to progressive and centre-left movements in the United States (and certainly parts of Canada where spin-offs are forming - I'm looking at you, Ontario Landowners Association) because it's far more than a collection of insanely angry people that aren't exactly the brightest in the world. It's actually got some viability in its core tenets; people are sick of governments that don't listen, and seemingly work in the interests of special interests than the people they represent.
But, let's forget whether their beliefs are viable or not. It's obvious that certain Tea Party candidates, especially Christine O'Donnell, Rand Paul, and Carl Paladino, are not helping the GOP in their respective races. But, those are obvious and glaring examples that progressives and the media like to pick on (with the latter, the exception is always the rule, remember that). The Tea Party however, at this point undoubtedly Republican, is helping the GOP in a much better way - giving them much needed enthusiasm to help roll the Democrats over in the 2010 mid-terms.
In case you don't know, "enthusiasm" is a term among pollsters that is used to tell which voters among the group called "likely voters" (those most likely to actually vote, as opposed to those who are simply registered) will vote which way they say they will. A simple way to put it is that Republican voters are more motivated to vote this election that Democrats, much how in our 2008 election, more Conservatives were motivated to vote than were Liberals (leading to our thrashing at the polls).
This mid-term's enthusiasm gap between the Republicans and the Democrats can be the result of many things; the fact that the Dems are now in power; that youth voters who supported Obama in 2008 are not so motivated to vote in a non-Obama election; that people are simply contrarian; and the list goes on. But it's glaringly obvious that a big reason is simply that the Tea Party supporters, who have hijacked so many GOP primaries this season, are willing to come out in droves to bring the GOP back into power.
This means that in certain close elections, like say the Illinois Senate election between Mark Kirk (R) and Alexi Giannoulias(D), Kirk will have a greater amount of motivated supporters than Giannoulias will, leading to Kirk claiming President Obama's old seat (though this is an example only; Kirk is definitely not Tea Party material). Or, as we saw in the Massachusetts special election, more motivation among Scott Brown's GOP supporters lead to him defeating Martha Coakley (D) in a close race, despite her leading in the polls for most of the period (though, again, Brown, despite being a Tea Party favourite, is simply not a Tea Partier). Tea Parties in certain congressional districts, Senate seats and gubernatorial elections, are certainly willing to lend their hand in helping their chosen candidate (the Republicans, more or less) win. That's dangerous in and of itself to Democratic candidates and incumbents.
But there's still more yet, because if the Tea Party continues to dominate and drive the GOP, which, despite the Republican establishment's protest, is a serious threat indeed, we could be looking at a new era of Moral Majority-like incumbents that would drive the national scene far away from constructive dialogue and reasoning. In fact, look at Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), and tell me you can't see that as the United States' future.
If the GOP establishment loses control, and yes, we do not want that, then not only will progressives and liberals be likely to feel much, much more pressure than they do now, centrists will be all but squeezed from the spectrum of Congress. Not good. And really, this is already happening.
Furthermore, if these Tea Party candidates are in control of Congress, then the national media focus will be on them, and their fights with Democrats, leftists, progressives, and secular humanists, who they all see as destroying the world. They will grab the spotlight, keep it on them, and then what do we do?
So, while yes, Joe Miller's Tea Party candidacy in Alaska has driven hoards of people to ousted GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski and given a boost to Democrat Scott McAdams' campaign donations, Tea Party fanatics may help deliver seats like Illinois, West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, or even Connecticut. And while Glen Urquhart and Christine O'Donnell have pretty much assured that Delaware becomes blue in every corner, Democratic incumbents like Alan Grayson, John Hall, Michael Bennett and Russ Feingold may lose their jobs because of angry, angry Tea Party campaigns.
The Tea Party is not simply a joke - it's a heavy reality. We as progressives need to really wake up to it.