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What the movement has indisputably done is energize Republicans and accelerate the rise of hardliners like Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul. Speaking to the Unity Rally about the official GOP positioning, Bachmann declared that "the Tea Party is all over that platform." It was a sentiment echoed by the event's keynote speaker, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who cited vigilance and the unification of conservative voices as the key to defeating Obama.
"Stay informed," Cain implored the crowd solemnly, "because stupid people are ruining America."
Over at the convention, with thousands of khaki-clad law-enforcement, the perimeter was fortified for an invasion. The city had braced for upwards of 5,000 protesters. Instead, they got a whole lot of weak sauce: Ron Paul supporters, bored street kids, a few curbside preachers, two anti-gay groups, some Scientologists and a couple of scattered groups advocating assorted causes. The only protesters to show any balls, so to speak, were Code Pink activists wearing giant vagina costumes.
Inside, it quickly became clear, in the way people chose their words as if it were their last meal, that few were completely enamored with the nominee.
"It's hard to find the perfect candidate," said Jerry T. Miller, a Kentucky delegate and Louisville Metro Council member. "If I could, I'd probably take a quarter of Romney, a quarter of Ron Paul, a quarter of Rick Santorum and maybe a quarter of Newt Gingrich."
That sound you hear is liberals collectively shuddering. Then again, in an era of Super PACs gone wild after being unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, anything is possible in an election where both campaigns will collectively spend more than $2 billion. The role of money became uncomfortably obvious at an event with an open bar when I was randomly introduced to a third-party congressional candidate from a Midwest swing state.
"I'm a journalist," I blurted, recognizing that the candidate was about two drinks past three sheets to the wind.
"Here's what I need from you," she slurred, undeterred. "I need you to get together with your friends and raise $250 to $500 for me, because I need at least $100,000 to even run a shoestring campaign."