Hark! Be that the ghost of Sen. Henry Clay, former champion of the Whig Party? The Great Compromiser was a fierce opponent of Andrew Jackson and is credited with creating the Whigs, a party that vanished around 1856, shortly after Clay's death; but it's being revived in Florida because, why not? If this dude above can convince the tea party faithful that they're being "Republicanized," then maybe they'll choose instead to be Whigged?
It's all terribly confusing, but with Florida being such a hotbed for tea-partydom, we feel obligated to try to sort things out.
We know that the tea party formed to oppose big government and reckless spending. But that's an awfully broad position, which is why at the outset, the tea party had an awfully big tent.
Typically, the Republican Party opposes big government and wasteful spending too. But it did such an atrocious job of it during the Bush administration that the tea party faithful couldn't very well align themselves with Republicans.
All the same, Republicans have tried to crash the tea party, with occasional success, if only because they agree with the tea party that this President Barack Obama is a wild spender.
Having infiltrated the tea party ranks, the Republicans may be slowly moving those activists toward adopting socially conservative positions like those in the rest of the party's base. Or at least, that's the fear of tea party purists, who want to kick the Republicans out so that the tea party ideology remains simple.
At the same time, the tea party brand has been under siege by activists who -- in the estimation of the purists -- don't appreciate the tea party's singular purpose. To wit, the rivalry between the South Florida Tea Party and the group launched by Coral Springs activist Karin Hoffman, which engineered a meeting with Republican Chairman Michael Steele based on her tea party affiliation.
And then there's the branding of the tea party for business purposes. An Orlando lawyer has registered the name with the Florida Division of Elections, so he'd like for groups who use the tea party moniker to get his permission -- a fairly outrageous request for a movement that's proud of its grassroots nature. In Naples, that scuffle has spilled into court.
It's just a big mess. But not nearly as big a mess as would happen if the tea party actually got one of its favorite politicians elected. Because so, far it's mainly talked about what the government shouldn't do. The hard part is deciding what the government should do.