Yes, the Tea Party brought down many Republicans, but in truth it was a way of rebranding the same old Republican party without the stink of George W Bush attached. Conservative activists back then looked out over an economic disaster brought on by libertarian idealism - by a generation that worshiped bank deregulation - and insisted that what we needed was more deregulation, that we needed to go full-on free market. That's the achievement of the Tea Party.
There is a possibility that the resistance to Trump will turn out the same way - that it will become a vehicle for our Enron Democrats to avoid accountability. "I don't think people want a new direction," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in December. Now is not the moment for infighting, others have insisted, but for unity and togetherness. Unity behind the existing leadership, that is. Changing the personnel in the C-Suites will only weaken us, they will say; hell, we can't even afford to see our leaders criticized.
Lesson No 2 from the Tea Party movement has to do with good old money-making opportunism. Back in the day, Tea Party events were always accompanied by a sort of traveling trade show, where the countless entrepreneurs associated with the movement sought to get rich off one another.
Harbingers of this approach are already visible. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has written a nonspecific but distinctly anti-Trump manifesto. Budweiser is running commercials perceived to be critical of Trumpism, as is Coca-Cola. Starbucks has made its antipathy clear. A bunch of tech companies have declared their undying hostility to Trump's immigration policies. Before long, no doubt, Nike or Reebok will be encouraging you to make a stand against fascism with a specially branded line of resistance sneakers.
What will of course disappear in the thrilling waves of corporate resistance to come, I expect, is that many American companies have a lot to answer for themselves. One possible reason so many corporate types are against immigration reform, for example, is because of corporate America's epidemic of H-1B visa abuse. It's not freedom they care for, really, it's profit squeezed out of desperate human beings.
The last lesson to take from modern conservatism is the most important: the Tea Party succeeded by pretending to be a hard-times protest movement.
The insight here is that liberals don't need to mimic the Tea Party in order to head off this powerful impulse; they merely need to be what they used to be - what they are supposed to be.
I doubt that many of our leading Democrats will be able even to do that, however. For decades now, Democrats and Blair-style "Third Way" leaders have praised one another for leaving all that workerist stuff behind, for embracing globalization and the knowledge economy and the enlightened professional class and affluent Republican voters in the suburbs. This has been going on for so long that the problem today is not only that they don't want to recapture that part of their identity but that they don't even know it exists.
The current Dems need to go if any real change is going to happen. They need to be primaried and replaced because they refuse to see how they have completely failed the people they claim to represent and are somehow still deluded enough to think that we will vote for them. How'd that plan work for you in November? Yeah, why don't you be patronizing and scolding some more to younger voters while you're at it? That's definitely a good long term strategy.
What is most pathetic about all the thinking I've described here is that it instinctively yearns for a movement of national unity, in which all the tasteful people from every high-status corner of society get together and put this braying New York bigot back in his place.
It was exactly the same dream that powered the Hillary campaign: all the respected people are together, and that's what matters. All the foreign policy gurus, all the Silicon Valley CEOs, all the Wall Street guys, all the highly regarded policy wonks. Rs and Ds alike, holding hands and singing from the same hymnal.
A popular front it ain't. This is the same Washington dream of a great consensus of the well-graduated that has animated every stage of loser liberalism's decline. What is stupid about it is that it unconsciously fulfills Donald Trump's vision of a rigged establishment game. But what truly is awful about it is that it wants to crush the very real possibility that the Democratic party might become relevant again.