Last summer, in the heat of the debate over health care reform, Washington Republicans were eager to embrace and promote the Tea Party movement. Their protests, rallies, and town hall meeting antics gave the GOP a megaphone with which to fight the Democratic plan to extend health coverage to millions. When Frank Luntz and Sarah Palin unveiled their "government takeover" and "death panel" lies, the Tea Party served as a readymade army of talking point shouters and sign makers.
While grateful for the passionate opposition to Democrats, establishment Republicans began to fear a wave of third party candidates serving as spoilers in elections the GOP might otherwise win. As the movement became more organized and more powerful, the Republican Party reacted quickly to assure the Tea Partiers that they were on the same page.
On Fox News, RNC Chairman Michael Steele said that he "would be out there with the Tea Party" if he weren't chairman of the party. House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said there was "no difference" between Republicans and the Tea Party, and dozens of Republican members of Congress have joined Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) Tea Party Caucus. House Republicans even hosted a rowdy "House Call" for Tea Party activists on the National Mall.
Thanks to the establishment's efforts, very few Tea Party activists are running as third party candidates in November. So the GOP's plan appears to have worked... sort of.
The would-be third party candidates began running in and winning Republican primary campaigns. Fringe candidates with little chance at winning in November have been knocking off appealing candidates hand-picked by the GOP establishment. Extreme Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul (KY), Sharron Angle (NV), Joe Miller (AK), and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware are making national headlines every time they speak about their far-right policy proposals or conspiracy theories.
By now it's clear the Tea Party is holding the GOP hostage and the Republican establishment can't do anything about it or they will be attacked by angry mobs of Tea Party protesters, lambasted on talk radio and Fox News, and eventually branded a "RINO" and cast out of the conservative movement. Washington Republicans are forced to fawn over their Tea Party captors, defend them on the airwaves, and spend campaign money, all because they are afraid of a Tea Party mutiny before November.
The Republican Party's Stockholm Syndrome is bad now, but it could get even worse after Election Day.
Follow Chris Harris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chris_p_harris