The moderation of the Tea Party seems to have begun, as a number of the movement's high-profile candidates transition from primary battles to general election campaigns.
On Monday morning, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle told "Fox and Friends" that, contrary to popular belief, she does not in fact want Social Security to be privatized.
"[T]hat's nonsense," said Angle. "I have always said we need to make the lockbox a lockbox, put the money in there for our senior citizens. They came here in good faith paying into a system and Harry Reid has put an IOU in for 24 years. He has been raiding Social Security. And what we need to do is personalize Social Security, so the government can no longer raid it."
The remarks don't reflect an explicit opposition to privatization, just privatization under a different moniker (personalization). Angle made them at the end of a rather soft interview and were set up by an accommodating co-host, Steve Doocy, who all but walked Angle through her answer.
"Now before you go, Sharon, perhaps it is misinformation or mischaracterization, but some have said that you are out to get rid of Social Security," said Doocy. "That's not true, right?"
Regardless of the set-up, the response remains noteworthy. Angle, as pointed out by Jon Ralston, the dean of the Nevada political press corps, has been fairly unapologetic in the past about her desire to see Social Security privatized. At one point, she said the program itself is "hard to justify." That she's now tempering that position illustrates the clear sense among the national Republican establishment that she needs to moderate her platform if she stands a chance of beating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.
Angle isn't alone. Prior to her was Rand Paul, the Tea Party candidate from Kentucky, who insisted during an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity last week that he certainly would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite refusing to answer the question directly during previous interviews. Paul, similarly, has toned down earlier remarks saying that the government was being too rough on BP in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf, telling a local Kentucky radio station that the federal regulations in place "apparently wasn't enough."
The moderation is expected, in many ways, because it is politically expedient. Even in conservative states like Kentucky it would be difficult to rationalize the position that BP is getting too tough a deal for the calamity it caused. The irony, of course, is that the two Tea Party candidates chose Fox News as a forum to pitch their less-conservative credentials. Ostensibly, the network recruits the type of Tea Party audience that tends to welcome talk of privatizing Social Security.
But Angle and Paul both have had rocky media debuts. And Fox has presented the friendliest atmosphere for sit-downs, as suggested by Doocy's handling of the interview.
"We did invite Harry Reid to sit on the couch, not only just with you but any time. He declined our offer," Doocy said at the end of the interview.
"Well," replied Angle. "I would like to say to Harry Reid: 'Harry Reid, will you please come on 'Fox and Friends' and debate with me?"