Earlier this week, Politico reported on a leeriness express by establishment Republicans over Rep Michele Bachmann’s recently formed Tea Party Caucus:

“With the official formation of a congressional Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Michele Bachmann has thrust an existential question before House Republican leaders: Are you in or are you out?


Indiana’s Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Conference, was adamant. “You betcha,” he said, deploying a Minnesota catch phrase.

But Minority Leader John Boehner won’t have his name on the caucus list.

And Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and his chief deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California — known as “Young Guns” for the GOP — are undecided.”

Allow me to offer that it is the members of the Tea Party that ought to be leery of establishment Republicans and the formation of a congressional Tea Party Caucus, not the other way around.

In an earlier post on One Nation and the possibility of liberal astroturfing, I noted that perhaps the most vital element in the success of the tea party movement is the sincerity of its grassroots bona fides. That the movement is really and truly made up primarily of deeply moved and concerned American citizens is what gives its message the passion and power that it has.

In terms of flexing that muscle, the tea party movement has been remarkably effective. There is no denying that tea partiers from coast-to-coast have fundamentally changed the landscape of American politics in the twenty-first century. Just ask Bob Bennett.   

But what is striking about the success of the tea party is the degree to which is has rallied so many Americans to force the GOP to debate on their terms rather than vice versa.

More often than not, grassroots groups that start out mobilizing sections of citizens towards a certain set of goals or political change wind up contorting themselves to wishes of the political party they seek to influence. I mean, where else are groups like the NAACP and labor unions honestly going to look for allies than in the Democratic Party.

And in politics, if you want a stake in the outcome, then you had better learn to play the right game.

But the fury and passion that has fueled the tea party has meant that participants have resisted playing anyone’s game but their own. Local tea party initiatives have organized and won primaries; they have taken over town hall meetings, and they inundated representatives on issues about which they feel strongly.

The end result is that the goals of the tea party movement have begun to shape a not insubstantial portion of the GOP.

But with the Tea Party Caucus, as Political reporters Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman note, “Bachmann has brought the tea party inside the Capitol.” And that is precisely where the potential problems lie.

By institutionalizing the "tea party" in the form of a caucus that demands of representatives that they either be “in or out,” Bachmann opens the door to a potential top-down approach to the movement implemented by representatives who feel they have no other option but to join the caucus and look to co-opt he movement from the inside. No other animal is as ferocious and crafty when backed into a corner as a political animal.

Of course, tea party advocates would likely respond that the local chapters wouldn’t let such a co-opting happen. And that is quite probably true. But the end result of such a fight may well spell a functional end to the movement, as members become cynical and disenchanted by the drama that once darlings like Bachmann have foisted upon them.

Already with the tea party movement has been forced to make tough choices as it comes of age in the expulsion of the Tea Party Express over concerns about racism. Can the movement handle both the inevitable prevalence of internal house as it moves forward and the possible full court press of the very representatives it was formed to reform?

Time will tell, I suppose. But my advice to tea partiers is to bear in mind that if an opportunity like getting a foot hold in the corridors of Washington seems too good to be true, it probably is.