Last week, David Brooks had bad news for his New York Times readers: The backlash against the Tea Party hasn't occurred. Neither has the 10-car collision the press and the left have predicted, though there have been harsh words and scraped fenders.
Instead, a different traffic event is occurring: The sort of impasse that happens when two streams of traffic feed into one lane, and there are slowdowns, stops, and multiple curses as cars maneuver for openings. In traffic terms, this is a lane merger, which can be tricky, but seldom results in a serious accident.
In cookery terms, the Tea Party is being folded into the Republican Party, before the souffle is put into the oven. A dynamic, raw, and undisciplined movement is being fed into an establishment that has coherence and structure, but has grown too sclerotic. This can only be good for them both.
Before we go into the slips and the screw-ups, it might help to consider what hasn't occurred. The Tea Party did not go third party, a chronic temptation, but instead followed the Ronald Reagan directive, that the more conservative of the two major parties is where a conservative movement belongs.
The Republican Party, while slow on the uptake, has not been reflexively hostile: It embraced Tea Party candidates when they defeated its favorites, lowered the boom on Charlie Crist when he went independent, and is preparing to do the same thing to Lisa Murkowski, who richly deserves it.
It would do both sides good if they could both concede that in Delaware there were legitimate reasons for objecting to both Mike Castle and Christine O'Donnell, who is making Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer look wiser in retrospect. But even if O'Donnell flames out, she is a small price to pay for South Carolina gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley, South Carolina congressional hopeful Tim Scott, and Florida senatorial nominee Marco Rubio, potential superstars, and coalition-expanders.
And Tea Partiers did not split the party, sit it out, or try to play spoiler: that role went to the moderates, pragmatists, reliable grown-ups, and establishment darlings, such as Arlen Specter, Castle (who at last word was sulking), Murkowski, and Crist.
And while we train our eyes on the bones of contention — Nevada and Delaware — let us look too at the places where the interests of the establishment and the Tea Party converge: in California, where all back Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, in Pennsylvania and Florida, where all (now) back Rubio and Pat Toomey; and on the three people already elected in special elections, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
By and large, Tea Partiers have accepted the fact that Brown must disappoint them now and then if he wants to be viable, and in other areas they have been showing pragmatic good sense.
In National Review Online, Stephen Spruiell noted the decision of the New York state Tea Party activists to back establishment candidate Matt Doheny for Congress when their own candidate lost.
“There seems to be a hard-to-define yet very real line separating the Republicans that Tea Partiers will back with reservations from those they won't support at all,” Spruiell wrote, suggesting that in Delaware, Castle's vote for cap and trade was the killer.
“Doheny, on the other hand, while not the most conservative … is conservative enough, so his electability will most likely earn him the Tea Party's endorsement. The point is that the Tea Party isn't suicidal in every race, but it considers some Republicans simply beyond the pale.”
An agreement of sorts may be working itself out between the establishment and the insurgents, who, in time, may become the establishment.
When the souffle is finished, of course.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”