It's time to abandon the term "tea party," says Nate Silver, ESPN's election guru.
As a euphemism for a type of conservatism, it is too vague to define, and as a description for a successful political movement, the figures do not bear that out, he says.
Silver, a former New York Times statistician, expressed this view as he reflected on Tuesday's primaries, in which Republican incumbents prevailed over tea party challengers.
"According to a series of mainstream media accounts, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell 'crushed' the tea party in 'the latest big beat' for the movement, which is 'losing steam' as the economy improves," Silver wrote in an article for his website, FiveThirtyEight
"What is the tea party, exactly? That's not so clear. There are a constellation of groups, like Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity, who sometimes associate themselves with the movement or are associated with it. But their agendas can range from libertarian to populist and do not always align," he said.
"Is the tea party opposed to the Republican establishment or has it been co-opted by it? That’s also hard to say," he said, arguing that its vagueness inherently limits its usefulness.
Meanwhile, the implication that the "tea party" is a potent political movement, is shaky at best, as electoral statistics do not reflect that to be the case.
"From 2004 to 2008, Republican incumbents got an average of 88 percent of the vote in their party primaries, compared to 78 percent from 2010 to 2012," he said, adding that in this week's primaries, the three incumbent Republican senators received an average of 67 percent of the vote.
"For all the talk of the rise of the tea party, only three out of 19 incumbent Republican senators in 2010 and 2012 were defeated," Silver wrote.
He concludes by saying, "Whether the Republican Party continues its drift to the right — something that I don't think should be taken for granted — is an important question. The evidence for it will manifest only noisily in individual races, however. Narratives centered on the rise and fall of the tea party may not give us a clearer perspective."
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