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June 21, 2013 7:44 AM The Tea Party’s Decline Had Nothing to Do with the IRS

By Jonathan Bernstein

I saw this from Kevin Drum, who sent me to Dave Weigel, and from there to a brilliant paper designed to fuel infinite resentment for conservatives, summarized by James Pethokoukis beginning with this gem:

1. Let’s say Tea Party groups had continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010.

And ending with the conclusion that the Democrats stole the 2012 election by suppressing the Tea Party vote by foot-dragging on certifying their tax-exempt status.

To which my first reaction is: that’s nothing! Of course we should assume that Tea Party groups would naturally group in Years Three and Four the way they grew in Years One and Two. And we should further assume that they should grow in Years Five and Six at that same rate, too — so we’re probably talking about them pretty much reaching 60% of the electorate by 2014, and 80% by 2016, and well over 200% of the electorate by the 2020 elections. Of course that’s what we should assume! By that logic, it’s pretty obvious that by the end of the decade Republicans would have easily had at least 90 Senators and 400 Members of the House, not to mention well over 450 electoral votes in the presidential elections. Anything else is clear evidence of stolen elections!

And of course that was only stifled by the insidious IRS plot. Never mind, as Weigel notes, that the real heavy Tea Party lifting was by already-established tax-exempts; never mind also, as Drum notes, that back in the real world the Tea Party was never very popular outside of the Republican core and, by 2011, was quite unpopular with most voters. All that would have been totally completely different if a whole bunch of small, local, groups had been properly equipped with prompt approval of their tax status.

At any rate, my other favorite part of this particular conspiracy is this from one of the study’s coauthors:

The Tea Party movement’s huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise. … Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election.

Got it? The complaint is that the IRS was slow in granting all these groups a tax status that depending on them not being primarily devoting to electioneering, thus preventing them from…”volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying” for the “midterm elections.”

I mean, as far as I can see (and I only read co-author Stan Veuger’s summary post, not the whole paper) the entire thing is premised on a “constitutional right” for these groups to get tax-exempt status so that they can do things they aren’t supposed to do with that tax-exempt status. And there’s not even a pause to explain why some might see something amiss in that.

As I’ve been saying for some time: they’re not even trying.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.