Data wizard Nate Silver is calling for a moratorium on the word "Tea Party."
In a post on his website, FiveThirtyEight, Silver -- a University of Chicago economics grad who rose to prominence for his statistically spot-on predictions of the 2008 presidential election -- argues for its removal as a blanket term to label GOP politicians and candidates who may or may not be associated with the five-year-old political movement.
"Perhaps it's time to discourage the use of 'tea party,'" Silver writes. "Or, at the very least, not to capitalize it as The New York Times and some other media organizations do. 'Tea Party' looks better aesthetically than 'tea party,' but triggers associations with a proper noun and risks misinforming the reader by implying that the tea party has a much more formal organizational infrastructure than it really does."
According to Silver, the Tea Party -- er, tea party -- evades definition in part because of its association with a nebulous network of groups whose agendas, spanning from libertarian to populist, sometimes don't match up.
"We got along perfectly well without the term," he says, noting differences in the language used to describe Pat Toomey, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, before and after 2008. (Though Toomey accepted the movement's support during his 2010 campaign, he did not officially declare allegiance; the NYT dubbed the pro-business politico a "Tea Party candidate" nonetheless.)
Silver's argument comes in response to jubilant headlines touting the tea party's demise following the primary victory of Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell this week. The Republican incumbent trounced rival Matt Bevin by 24 percentage points, prompting the Washington Post to declare the win as "further proof of a growing trend" that the GOP establishment will succeed in pushing out tea-party backed challengers this election cycle.
Earlier this week, New York Magazine writer Frank Rich observed that the GOP and the tea party had merged into one right-wing party, citing McConnell's co-opting of "tea party positions and tea partiers, starting with the hiring of Rand Paul's campaign manager."
"The tea party is and always has been the Republican base: dedicated to obstructing and dismantling federal government, livid about Obama and all he represents about the country’s demographical change, and well to the country’s right on issues ranging from immigration reform to gay marriage," wrote Rich, comparing the political climate circa 2014 to that of 1964, when Barry Goldwater shook up the Republican base.
Concurring, The Guardian's Ana Marie Cox said the GOP's rightward shift was spurred by the infusion of Goldwater's limited-government agenda and similar movements, giving rise to the tea party (officially borne here in Chicago with a single rant on the floor of the Mercantile Exchange).
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, ahead of McConnell's ouster of Bevin, House Speaker John Boehner said there's "not that big a difference between what you call the tea party and your average conservative Republican."
"We're against Obamacare, we think taxes are too high, we think government is too big. I wouldn't continue to sing that same song," he continued.
In that case, why not re-name the GOP the "Grand Old Tea Party"? What, no takers?