Matt Yglesias speculates over what (who) drives tea party members:
Suppose there’s some sellout that John Boehner wants to implement…he sits down in a room with Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Donohue, and David Koch and persuades all three (sic) of those people that this is the right way to proceed…coordinated action among a very small number of people can cut the oxygen off from the tea party fire any time they want to.
This follows a common narrative amongst the left, which says that the tea party movement, or conservatives generally, are largely controlled by their media consumption. If Rush and Fox News say X, then conservatives/tea partiers will believe X. This theory is viable, but as someone who’s done my own speculating about tea partiers, I’m pretty skeptical. I tend to view tea partiers as some combination of thinking and unthinking conservatives, whose views tend to align with a range of conservative figures. Yes, to some extent, media figures influence the grassroots. But simultaneously, media consumers have considerable influence on media.
Suppose, for instance, that Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh spontaneously decide that Americans ought to move to Nebraska. They shift their programming and constantly present arguments for why Americans should move to Nebraska. Does it follow that Americans move to Nebraska? Some might. But more likely, conservatives would simply find different media outlets that better reflect their views and attitudes.
The tea party phenomenon is, I think, a fairly complex movement that has a basis in legitimate concerns about the governance of the country. To dismiss the movement as being completely subject to the whims of a small number of power brokers is, I think, a pretty serious mistake.