So you're a Republican candidate and you want to take advantage of the Tea Party energy that jolted once-sleepy primaries. But you aren't sure whether that means you have to take a stand against masturbation or urge your supporters to gather their bayonets - tactics that seem to have worked for a few Tea Party candidates so far. You're not certain most Americans share the Tea Party enthusiasm for repealing the 17th Amendment (or even know that it established direct election of United States senators by popular vote). You don't have Sarah Palin's phone number.
Not to worry. There's no doubt that the Tea Party is a double-edged sword: a New York Times/CBS poll last week found that while most Americans had not formed a view of the Tea Party, the percentage of independent voters who view it negatively had increased.
But the Tea Party has brought a swell of new participants to the political process, and historical and economic trends are working in favor of the party out of power - that would be you, G.O.P. The trick is to take advantage of the Tea Party passion and stay away from its extremes. Celebrate the genius of the Constitution, but don't get into the particulars. Tea Party activists, Republican moderates and independent handicappers all agree that the road for Republican candidates is to talk about the debt and concerns about the new health care legislation - areas where Tea Party sentiment is more aligned with the views of most Americans.
Zernike's story was paired by advice for the Democrats from Jennifer Steinhauer, "Beware of Anger, Take Advantage of Anxiety ." The Democrats have settled on a plan to lump mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party movement as "extreme," and Steinhauer helpfully loaded up her story with that word and passed along some of the more "extreme" ideas presented by individual candidates backed by the movement. She also presented some tips for Democrats who want to embarrass the Tea Party: "Video camera are helpful in this effort." At no time did either Zernike or Steinhauer suggest Democratic policies might have faults just like those from the wacky Tea Party.
From Steinhauer's Sunday piece:
For Democrats, the growing debate over how to vanquish the Tea Party movement is analogous to a family fracas over how to best get rid of your sister's latest crummy boyfriend.
Do you repeatedly point out all the perceived flaws of the new suitor, hoping that they resonate? Or do you insist that the new guy is just like the ex, and suggest that repeating the pattern will only lead to misery?
Many Democrats have chosen to run against the Tea Party - as opposed to the Republicans in Washington - by repeatedly pointing out positions they believe general election voters would not cotton to, like privatizing Social Security, abolishing entire federal departments, upending certain civil rights laws and outlawing abortion, even in the case of rape. Not all Tea Party candidates share these positions, but many have spoken in favor of one or more of them.
"Our strategy is to help voters understand that what these folks are talking about is so far out of the American mainstream that they represent a clear and present danger to the political health of the country," said Mark Alan Siegel, chairman of the Democratic Party in Palm Beach County, Fla. The county is partly in the 22nd Congressional District, where a Tea Party candidate, Allen West, is challenging a Democratic incumbent, Ron Klein.
If Steinhauer had a problem with militaristic rhetoric like calling the Tea Party "a clear and present danger," she concealed it well, and pointed to data suggesting the tactic could work.
If they want to succeed in turning Tea Party candidates into everyday Republicans with crazy hats, Democrats have some math in their favor. In the New York Times/CBS poll, 30 percent of respondents said they approved of the way Democrats in Congress are handling their jobs - but only 20 percent approved of Republicans.
And don't forget "the foot-in-mouth factor, especially with inexperienced candidates on the stump."
The party spread the word, for instance, when Dan Maes, the Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate, said the mayor of Denver's plan to promote a bicycle-sharing program was a "strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty." (Video cameras are helpful in this effort.)