In considering and evaluating the so-called Tea Party™ now, in 2012, three and a half years after it [apparently] burst spontaneously onto the political scene with a series of Tax Day "rallies" [paid for by the Koch brothers, promoted, staged and breathlessly "covered" by Fox News] whose purpose seemed to be to protest tax increases that had not occurred and were not about to occur, I have some ideas as to why it appears to have faded away into irrelevance.
Set aside for the moment that the whole thing was fake, nothing more than a new scene in the GOP's elaborate, ongoing production of improvisational theatre. Matt Taibbi absolutely nailed it, as well as anyone could, in his Rolling Stone article from 2010: "They're full of shit." In fact the Tea Party was so full of shit, its adherents so obviously full of shit when they talked about themselves and the "movement" (no pun intended), that the rest of the public eventually (too late, as it turned out, for the 2010 midterms) caught on to their act. These are people who spent 2009 and 2010 freaking out over imaginary threats, pretending to be outraged by things they were fine with in 2005 and pretending to be fine with things they were outraged by in 2005, doing everything they could to congratulate themselves for their own virtues while expressing naught but hostility and resentment toward everyone else, particularly those who saw through their ridiculous self-serving charade and called them out for what they really were: old, white, Republican voters/fans who could not process the abject failure of the Bush presidency and could not own their unequivocal, unqualified support, cheerleading and enabling thereof. They had elected, supported, lionized, worshipped and practically deified a man who literally ruined the country, and could take responsibility neither for what they'd done nor for having been so spectacularly wrong. They used intemperate hostility and delusions of persecution to cover up their guilt and stave off self-doubt. Is it any wonder they went insane?
One thing that always stood out, and continues to stand out, for me with respect to the Tea Party is its self-admiration, and the intense desire of its adherents to feel heroic and to be perceived by others as heroic. I have never seen a political cohort that admires itself as much as the Tea Party does. Tea Party adherents admire themselves, they admire the Tea Party, and they admire themselves for being a part of the Tea Party. Listening to a Tea Party adherent talk about the Tea Party, about What The Tea Party Stands For and Believes In and all that, is like listening to the groom give a speech about the bride at their wedding, a speech given by a Board member about the CEO at the latter's retirement dinner.
I've had more than my share of conversations where I've listened to or read some Tea Partier's obsequious, sugary platitudes about what Tea Party purportedly "believes in," and when I've cut through and refuted it in the manner suggested above the response, when it has not been one of intemperate anger and hostility, has usually been along the lines of, "You just don't understand what the Tea Party is all about." No, I'd say; it's not that I don't understand it. I just don't believe it. They tell me I should talk to actual Tea Party people to find out what they "really" believe in and stand for. No, I'd say; the last place you want to look if you want to understand what a political movement is all about, is what that movement says about itself, least of all one that admires itself as much as the Tea Party does. Any group that admires itself that much can neither be taken seriously nor trusted.
Combine that overweening self-admiration with those delusions of persecution, those over-the-top paranoid fantasies about everyone and everything they perceived as a threat and were determined (or ordered) to hate, from President Obama on down, and you realize that these people see themselves as nothing if not heroes. They want to feel like heroes, and they want to be seen as heroes, in the classic, mythic sense. Exaggerating both their own virtues and the nature and magnitude of the "threats" they face, even if wholly imaginary, makes them heroes in their own minds.
Will the Tea Party make a comeback? Maybe. There's less of a point to it now, since President Obama will not face election again. (You can bet it will make a comeback when the House starts to move toward impeachment, which it will; count on that.) Maybe there are enough people in the movement who are serious, sane and temperate enough to keep it going as a viable political organization. My sense, now that the 2012 election is over and the most cynical, dishonest, ugly, mendacious, mean-spirited, destructive, perfidious political strategy in modern history has failed to achieve its sole objective, is that the Tea Party is and was a marketing strategy, a way of selling a product -- that product being the desire, indeed the imperative, to vote Republican -- to a particular segment of the population. That's all it ever was, and all it likely ever will be.