The Republican Party is in a state right now. It is absolutely without rudder: witness the TEA Party. It's an inchoate mass -- some arguing intelligently for classical liberal economics and crying out for real solutions out of the spending hole the country is now in, while another large mass launches a frontal assault on the very idea of rationality, weeping alongside Glenn Beck and decrying socialism with an Obama Joker face. Witness the woes of Paul Ryan, the rising-star pragmatist who can't get a following in his own party. Witness Bob Inglis, the moderate who, despite my policy disagreements with him, recognizes the dangers of the obscurantist wing of the TEA Partiers. Witness the return of Newt Gingrich -- who had a fine idea in the mid-Nineties, but now has little more than opposition to mosques.
It is, I think, significant that Ryan refused to join the Tea Party caucus in Congress. And I think it's a wise move. The Republican Party should see the Tea Party as an ally, but not an internal part of itself. The two organizations must remain separate and distinct.
The real danger, I think, is getting too close to a movement that has no real, clear leader. Grassroots movements are fine things, but there needs to be a clear voice with which the group speaks. A group, like the Tea Party, that has no clear definition leaves itself open to too many attacks -- the "racist" smears have been simply that, but the nature of the party remains elusive nonetheless: is it socially conservative? Is it a group focused exclusively on fiscal issues? It is far from clear.
And until the Tea Party coalesces around a solid core, it must remain at arm's length.