By Brad Friedman on 1/22/2013, 12:14pm PT  

Palm Beach Post's George Bennet wrote last week about how so-called "Tea Party" groups seem to be running away from the "Tea Party" name in places like Florida.

The South Florida Tea Party, for example --- the one that helped launch the national career of Sen. Marco Rubio and hosted Donald Trump while he was initially pretending to think about running for President --- is changing their name to the National Liberty Federation.

"As Tea Party groups go," observes Steven Benen at MaddowBlog, "the South Florida Tea Party was one of the bigger and better organized outfits."

But it's little wonder these folks are running from the name. Their popularity, and their name brand, is now plummeting along with the fortunes of the Congressional Republican Party. As Bennet notes, even Rightwing pollsters like Rasmussen are finding that support for the "Tea Party" movement is absolutely cratering...

Rasmussen, a favorite polling firm of conservatives, found in a survey this month that only 8 percent of voters identify themselves as tea party members, down from a high of 24 percent shortly after passage of the federal health care law in 2010. The Rasmussen poll found 30 percent of voters had a favorable view of the tea party and 49 percent had a negative view.
...
An October Rasmussen poll found 44 percent of voters considered “tea party” a negative label, eclipsing “liberal” as the most potent negative adjective.

And, again, he's the Republican pollster. NBC News/Wall Street Journal finds, according to Benen, that attitudes about the "Tea Party" are "abysmal". "Just 9% have a 'very positive' impression of the so-called movement --- an all-time low," he writes, "while 32% have a 'very negative' impression --- an all-time high. All told, the Tea Party's favorability rating is down to just 23%, which is even lower than the GOP's support and that of the NRA."

"If the 'movement' still exists," Benen argues, "it's gasping for air --- and relevance."

But the problems for the Republican Party itself are much deeper than simply their association with the tainted "Tea Party". Benen explains, for example, that "After discovering that there aren't any Republicans left in the center," the Republican Main Street Partnership, a D.C. outfit promoting moderate GOP lawmakers and policies, "dropped the 'R' word and became simply the Main Street Partnership."

Little wonder about that either. Democratic strategist Karen Finney noted yesterday at The Hill [emphasis added]...

As the latest NBC news/Wall Street Journal poll indicated, 49 percent of Americans view the GOP negatively, compared to only 26 percent positively; additionally, a plurality says it will blame the GOP if [debt ceiling] talks fail. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 47 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans [more] for the difficulties of the “fiscal cliff” deal than they do President Obama (31 percent); only 30 percent of Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing, with 65 percent opposed, versus 59 percent of Democrats who approve of the job of congressional Democrats are doing, with 31 percent opposed.

And remember, that 30 percent of Republicans who approve of the job Congressional Republicans are doing is based on those who self-identify as Republicans. Many of those folks have long ago left the party to become either "independents" and/or hard-core "tea partiers". So those are really some abysmal numbers for the GOP.

So with the "Tea Party" approval at an all-time low, and the Republican Party's approval numbers in the toilet --- even among Republicans --- along with them, why would the GOP be dumb enough to continue allying itself with "movement"? To paraphrase Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, they "got nowhere else to go!"

Thanks to the GOP co-opting the label of the legitimate Tea Party movement (the one which really was anti-establishment, anti-Big Government, pro-civil rights and anti-war, as begun by Ron Paul supporters as early as 2007 and rejected by establishment GOPers from the jump) and replacing it with little more than a corporate, pro-Republican, money-raising racket which stood for little more than opposing anything and anybody with a "D" next to their name, they had no real principles to stand on, other than electing people who weren't Democratic, as well as defeating anybody who dared even work with anybody who happened to be Democratic.

The opportunistic Republican Party which --- either out of fear of primary defeats or short-term self-delusion that any opposition, no matter how bereft of principle, was somehow good opposition --- latched on to the moniker and the gullible Fox "News" groupies that came with it.

In the meantime, while they might otherwise have carved out some ground with some real differences with mainstream Democrats, as the Paul supporters did, the co-opted "Tea Party" moved ever further to deluded Right, allowing the Democratic Party to suck up everything, and all of the "reasonable" positions, in "the middle". (Which is why these developments aren't great for real Progressives either, by the way. With the Democratic Party, filling "the center" vacuum, they now have no real need to cater to their Progressive base.) In turn, with a Democratic Party now owning the mainstream, Republicans find themselves grappling for a foothold with "nowhere else to go", but still farther to the Right as their own, self-created, self-defeating feedback loop continues to continue.

With the loss of the American Mainstream to Democrats, and the partitioning of "Red/Blue" districts with GOP gerrymandering, the only really competitive elections left are now Republican primaries. They can be won with a minority of a minority, otherwise known as the "Tea Party", the folks who actually bother to show up for primaries --- no matter how unpopular that brand name has become.

In lieu of the emergence of a nationally appealing and "reasonable" Republican to change the balance of the game --- and it is likely to change very quickly if and when that happens --- all of this is likely to continue getting far worse for the GOP, and the country along with it, before any of it gets better.