The WSJ gets it wrong: The Tea Party is not “populist”

In today's WSJ, columnist Gerald Seib makes the case that the unfolding Tea Party movement echoes the “Reagan Revolution,” which made the Republican Party more conservative. (Albeit without the Nazi signs.) Seib also taps into the misguided media narrative about the Tea Party being “populist,” therefore it will make the GOP more “populist.”

He writes [emphasis added]

The tea-party movement, which is activating a new cadre of angry citizen-activists, could well be doing something similar to the Republican Party right now. This time, the outcome figures to be a party that isn't just more conservative, but also more populist. Again, the question of what happens to party moderates is a big one.


One difference is that while Mr. Reagan made Republicans more conservative, the tea party is making them more populist.

How do we know that to be true? Because, according to Seib:

Business interests will find, for example, that when they turn to the Republican Party to support free-trade agreements, the tea-party contingent isn't going to fall into line as Reagan conservatives did. And certainly this new wave of Republican leaders doesn't share the late president's positive view of immigration.

The first point about free trade seems to be speculation since there haven't been any recent free trade agreements for the Tea Party to weigh in on. And the second point about immigration kind of doesn't make sense: President Bush had a “positive view of immigration,” but the new generation of Tea Party-influenced GOP leaders do not have that positive view of immigration, so that makes them “populist”?

I don't follow.

And I also don't follow the larger “populist” claim. Keep in mind the Tea Party sprang to life one year ago literally staging angry rallies on behalf of the insurance industry. Tea Party candidates campaign on the promise to repeal health care reform, even though this week we learn that an all-time high number of Americans (50 million) don't have health insurance. Tea Party activists cheered when Republicans opposed extending benefits for the unemployed. And Tea Party media leaders defended BP from attempts to hold the oil company responsible for the Gulf disaster.

On what political plantet does that qualify Tea Partiers as “populist” and sticking up for the common man against elite forces? As I've noted previously, Tea Party leaders have made it clear that the movement is built around two guiding principles: Hating Obama and praying at the altar of big business.

Populism is not part of the equation.