This is not to say that big money and big power don’t rule the capital already. Many analysts believe their influence is greater than ever, reinforced not only by the Citizens United decision four years ago, but also by the astonishing growth of wealth at the upper-income levels of American life and by the new fundraising tools created by the Internet. Even apostles of the so-called little guy in American politics have been beneficiaries of big money — and here Obama immediately comes to mind, though much of his campaign treasury was gathered in small contributions by ingenious initiatives on the Web.
This is one reason the established parties don’t rule Washington the way they once did: ruthlessly, remorselessly, relentlessly.
Though the major parties have been recast in the last quarter century by money, though both have become more ideologically aligned and more ideologically rigid, both have in some senses become less powerful. While their ability to stymie their rivals seems unlimited and their inclination to slime their opponents seems inexhaustible — the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the demonization of George W. Bush, the relentless attacks on Obama — they have been eclipsed by independent groups.
With more money and thus more power available to the parties, it is possible that groups such as the tea party could find their influence undermined by the very party establishments that their money and candidates are trying to change.
Groups like the tea party will still have funding, to be sure; many of their donors are more interested in their causes than in promoting the GOP. With enhanced power residing in groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee, however, leaders of the party establishment may be able to drown with money those candidates they regard as rogues — particularly when incumbents are involved.