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Tea Party Was Underestimated: Top GOP Strategist

Sep 17, 2010

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Mark McKinnon, a Republican consultant who helped shape the media messages of former President George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, clearly sees the Tea Party as a big deal.

To anyone who views the new movement as full of sound and fury and signifying nothing, McKinnon's message is: think again. As his old boss might have said, the Tea Party was "misunderestimated."

As he said to Linda Wertheimer, guest co-host on Morning Edition, after she asked him if the Tea Party's success to date was being overinterpreted:

I think if anything we've underinterpreted. That was the message from Delaware, that this is much stronger, much bigger than any of us had anticipated.

And it's gotten to the point where people don't even like their own representatives anymore. They want them all out, they want to start from scratch. They want to burn the house down. It's ugly.

LINDA: Is it a good thing?

MCKINNON: I think it's both good and bad. I think it's good that we're getting the attention of our elected officials to make sure they're listening to what's happening in America.

But I think there's a lot of irrational behavior going on out there and not a lot of thinking about what sort of policies do we need going forward to fix the problems that we've got.

McKinnon echoed the concerns of other pragmatic Republican-operative types that the Tea Party may be tapping the emotions of the grassroots but leading to the nomination of some candidates who will prove unelectable in the general election.

He also sounded fairly certain the Republican Party would be pulled to the right by the Tea Party.

That's going to have long-term consequences on our policies and our politics.

Furthermore, the Tea Party is creating havoc for Republican insiders, he said.

I think the Republican establishment is freaking out. I think people like Mitt Romney and others are looking at this and going 'Oh my God, what am I going to do about these Tea Party folks and Sarah Palin? I think they're deeply concerned about how they're going to put together their coalition now to govern and to try and get somebody nominated in 2012.

And for all those who have written off Palin as a potential Republican presidential nominee, McKinnon had this caffeinated message:

If you look at what happened in Delaware, it starts to paint a picture where you can see a pathway for a GOP nomination for somebody like Sarah Palin.

To which many in the online news media, lusting for a gazillion web clicks during the next general election, would likely utter the immortal words of Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Make it so.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: Here's the audio from McKinnon's conversation with Linda:

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