Yet deeper integration is unlikely to outlive this political moment. Just as the grassroots organization built during President Bush’s winning 2000 and 2004 campaigns did not outlive his presidency (or even, in fact, persist much beyond those campaigns), President Obama struggled mightily to conjure up the enthusiasm of his 2008 bid in this year’s listless campaign, limiting his stops to inner cities and liberal college towns. After the 2008 election, the vaunted “Obama movement” mostly fizzled out: It was moved in-house to the Democratic National Committee and given the moniker “Organizing for America.” Campaign-related activity on “MyBO,” OFA’s Web-based organizing hub, was down as much as 90 percent from 2008 as activists recoiled at the shift from the frenetic energy of a campaign to White House command and control. The experience should provide a cautionary tale to the Tea Partiers, with their more humble origins: Hitch yourself to established power institutions at your own peril.
No one is saying that the Tea Party movement didn’t have its share of misfires this year — for example, the fixation on Christine O’Donnell in Delaware kept the movement from helping Ken Buck and Dino Rossi across the finish line in Colorado and Washington State respectively. What is clear is that to endure, the movement will need to grow and develop from within — honing its political strategy, candidate recruitment, and online infrastructure with little help from traditional Washington players.