The Gadsden flag is flying at half-staff this past week.
The tea party — that plucky insurgent movement that, as recently as two years ago, began trying to reshape the Republican Party and politics more generally — finds itself flailing as 2012 draws to a close, buffeted by infighting, defeats and a broad struggle to find a second act.
Consider the following:
— Tea party patron saint Jim DeMint of South Carolina stunned the political world by announcing that he would resign from the Senate at the end of the year to take a job as the head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
— FreedomWorks, a Washington-based political group that is one of the pillars of the tea party movement, has been rent by internal strife. It was announced this past week that former Texas congressman Dick Armey is leaving as head of the group, alleging mismanagement.
— Tea-party-aligned House members, including Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and David Schweikert (Ariz.), were kicked off coveted committees after not going along with GOP leaders on several critical votes.
Couple those developments with poll results that suggest the tea party is at, or close to, its nadir in terms of public opinion, and the problem becomes evident. The movement needs to decide whether it can survive as an outside force or whether it can become more aligned with the GOP without sacrificing the principles on which it was founded.
The tea party, for watching a movement turn into a mess, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.