If there’s one thing to be learned from the Democratic victory in New York-26—aside from the fact that the Dems would be malpracticing incompetents if they don’t use Medicare as a silver bullet in 2012 races—it’s that money isn’t everything. Outside right-wing groups, primarily Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, outspent their progressive counterparts $1.36 million to $916,585 in an overwhelmingly red district and still lost big.

 Money may be the mother’s milk of politics, but the Tea Party base is ostensibly lactose-intolerant (at least of Keynesian spending), and Beltway greed now threatens their last remaining claim to “populism.” Killing Medicare, as Paul Ryan’s budget would do, is bad enough. But when the base also realizes that the Tea Party Republicans they elected last November are already pocketing huge amounts of cash from the same bailed-out firms they once railed against, the sense of betrayal among the ranks could become venomous.

A story in the financial publication The Deal revealed this week that the 10 Tea Party–backed House freshmen who leadership appointed to the Financial Services Committee have received almost $600,000 from Wall Street since the November election. The aim of the banks’ generosity, of course, is to cripple the legislation designed to prevent another financial meltdown—like the one that sparked the Tea Party’s anger in the first place. As The Deal’s Nicole Duran writes (subscription required):

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in last year’s election was fueled in large part by Tea Party enthusiasts whose mistrust of government—including anger at Washington’s bailout of Wall Street—fueled their organizational and monetary support for candidates who labeled themselves as populist conservatives. 

Now, a fair number of those new GOP lawmakers are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street. At the same time, those lawmakers are now pushing legislation that would rewrite many of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, passed last summer when Democrats still controlled both chambers of Congress. 

That so many Tea Party–backed lawmakers are now pushing pro–Wall Street legislation draws into question their commitment to the populist ethos that has characterized the movement.

Take, for example, Representative Nan Hayworth (NY-19). During her campaign, Hayworth refused to distance herself from the extreme Tri-State Sons of Liberty; indeed, she wrote on Facebook, “I am proud to be a member and honored to have their endorsement.” Now, Hayworth is pushing the “Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act,” which would repeal the Dodd-Frank Act’s CEO pay disclosure provision. That would be so heinous a burden that, as Duran points out, “In just the first three months of 2011, companies and trade organizations spent more than $5 million lobbying on behalf of Hayworth’s bill, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Many of those corporations, such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase, were also Hayworth donors.”

Or take Sean Duffy (WI-7), the former MTV Real World dude who took retiring democratic Representative David Obey’s seat. “Since Election Day,” Duran writes, “he has added almost $250,000 to his re-election kitty, the bulk of which came from industries with business before the Financial Services Committee.” Earlier this month Duffy introduced a bill (approved by his subcommittee) that would make it easier for a council of regulators to veto any actions by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, of course, is the agency that Elizabeth Warren has been organizing and that Republicans are desperate to strangle in its crib, even to the laughable extent of accusing the soft-spoken academic of being a power-hungry tyrant. (On Tuesday, at a House Oversight subcommittee hearing, Representative Patrick McHenry (NC-10) called her a liar.)

These freshmen’s cozyiness with Wall Street reveals not only the hypocrisy of Republicans who pose as Tea Party populists when it suits them; it also reveals that the TP itself lives in a Potemkin Village.

As Rachel Maddow has been pointing out all along, the Tea Party powerbase is small and getting smaller since the 2010 elections. A South Carolina rally last week featuring Governor Nikki Haley and Donald Trump was expected to draw 2,000 people, but when Trump pulled out, the fearsome TP crowd amounted to… thirty.

The Tea Party as a mighty, monolithic force to be reckoned with exists less in reality than in the Beltway minds of the MSM and John Boehner. A recent McClatchy-Marist poll, in fact, showsthat 70 percent of registered voters who identify with the Tea Party are opposed to cutting Medicare—or Medicaid—in order to reduce the deficit. Paul Ryan, as a new ad showing him dumping Granny off a cliff makes clear, is a Patriot missile aimed right at their hearts.

But the GOP just can’t help itself–greed is such a powerful incentive. Stephen Colbert’s one-man parody of Citizens United fundraising—his “Colbert Super PAC”—hit just the right note when he offered to shake hands with the fans who gathered before the Federal Elections Commission to cheer him on—for one dollar per shake.

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