The GOP has had an uneasy dance with the Tea Party movement, trying to borrow some of its passion while sidestepping its members’ most radical ideas (like abolishing the Department of Education). As the fall elections approach, however, that standoffishness is melting into something else: a resigned embrace. The shift was first palpable this spring, when six Tea Party–backed Republican Senate candidates won (or emerged as favored to win) their primaries. But it gained an official gloss this month when John Cornyn, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, welcomed the interlopers as “our nominees,” and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann persuaded 23 fellow Republicans to join a new Tea Party Caucus in the House.
Now the emerging bond has survived temptation as well. Last week the Michigan secretary of state received enough signatures to give the Tea Party its own spot on the state’s November ballot. Rather than embrace the distinction, however, Republican and Tea Party leaders disavowed it as a Democratic plot. Why try to beat the GOP, explained Tina Dupont, cofounder of the state’s largest Tea Party group, when you can join it?