Why is the Tea Party like Lebron James?

Because the assessment of both seems to change on almost a daily basis.

If you listen to sportswriters, sports-call hosts, and sports-callers, you’d think there were two players named Lebron James. When Miami wins an important playoff game, James is a ferocious, do-it-all competitor who has led Miami to four straight NBA title series and is beginning to rate comparison with Michael Jordan. When Miami loses a big game, James is a gutless head case who “hides” in big games (if he’s not carried off the court entirely), and doesn’t hold a candle to Kobe Bryant, never mind Jordan.

Assessments of the Tea Party also fluctuate wildly, depending on which Wednesday morning it is. One day, the Tea Party is a spent force, beaten into irrelevance by the likes of Mitch McConnell. A week later, it has captured the Republican Party.

In reality, neither James nor the Tea Party is difficult to assess. James is the best basketball player of his generation, but no match for Michael Jordan (at least not yet).

The Tea Party is more complex, but no enigma. In my view, a sizeable minority of Republicans can be described as “Tea Party,” while more than half of Republicans are sympathetic to most of what the Tea Party is trying to accomplish. But a sizeable minority distrusts the Tea Party.

If this is true, the Tea Party cannot be irrelevant to the Republican Party, but it is unlikely to “capture” the Party. Rather, as a substantial faction, it can be expected to win some primaries and lose others.

Because the Tea Party usually tests itself against the “Republican establishment” in races where it tries to unseat an incumbent, and given the built-in advantages of incumbency, the Tea Party can be expected to lose more often than it wins. But because there will always be incumbents who lose touch with their Republican constituents, and there will sometimes be outstanding Tea Party candidates, we can expect the Tea Party to claim some big scalps.

The test for Republicans is not, as some in the MSM suggest, whether they can beat back the Tea Party. Rather, the test is whether its voters do a good job of choosing which Tea Party candidates (and which incumbents) to nominate and which to reject, especially in races where the general election may well be up for grabs.

Stated differently, the test is whether Republicans can nominate the Ron Johnsons and Mike Lees, while defeating the Christine O’Donnells and Sharron Angles.