Much of the media and most Democrats are dismissive of what is truly a grassroots movement. But the Tea Party has shown remarkable energy in its short life span ... It’s a very interesting dance right now watching the courtship between the movement and GOP candidates and officeholders. ... [T]he movement is wary of being identified as “Republican” or being controlled by any individuals or organization ...
The Tea Party crowd is unlikely to actually become a third party, but their ability to leverage energy behind candidates and policies could be very similar to what MoveOn.org has accomplished on the left. Movements are also often identified by a clear leader. The question that remains: Who will that be?
I think it is an open question whether the tea party dynamic should really be called a "movement" yet. There is a fine line between movement and mob, and that line is defined by whether they are making progress or noise.
The Tea Party outrage could organize around viable policies and strategies to accomplish their goals. That would be a movement. But if it does not identify viable policies and strategies to accomplish their goals - and leadership to move them forward - then the outrage without progress will eventually reduce them (us) to a mob.
However, I'm not sure a tea party movement will resemble Moveon.org. A Democratic activist once told me he was surprised that (he'd heard) the largest Tea Party email list was only about 50,000 people. Compared to Moveon.org's many millions of emails, that seemed inconsequential.
That's a key misunderstanding. The Left think this is an organized, top-down effort - a few organizations spinning up the sheep to do their bidding. That's why they kept insisting this was "astroturf". But that's exactly wrong (and a serious under-estimation of the legitimacy and broad resonance of the outrage).
The tea party movement is not a single organization with millions of email addresses. It is tens of thousands of small groups and individuals, each of which has dozens, hundreds or thousands of email addresses. The tea party movement really is a decentralized, spontaneous, grassroots reaction.
Of course, that has up and down sides. Instead of organizing to accomplish specific victories (as Moveon.org has done on occassion), they may more closely resemble the anti-war crowd - full of sound and fury, but without much specific direction. The anti-war "movement" eventually became alienated or folded into organizations like Moveon.org.
The immediate problem both Tea Party activists and Republicans face is that, while they know what they don't want, they don't have a lot of clear ideas about how to accomplish what they do want. "Be principled" is not a strategy.
The Tea Party crowd may not end up being a movement, but that's ok. The energy itself is important to maintain until the policies and organizing vehicles do emerge.