The Tea Party flared up in 2010, a mid-term election year when far fewer people actually vote. The turnout rate was just 41 percent in 2010—more than 20 percentage points less than in 2008 and 17 less than 2012. A spike in voter intensity amongst one party in mid-terms makes a much bigger impact than it does in presidential election years, which is why Noonan’s yard-signs-I-noticed indicator didn’t work so well in 2012.
The AEI report says if the Tea Party had grown as fast in 2011 and 2012 as it did in 2009 and 2010 then it might have overcome Obama’s 5 million vote margin. Well, yes. But the law of large numbers means that exponential growth has to slow down rapidly. And the moderating of the financial crisis, the rearview mirror status of the Obamacare and stimulus fights, a centrist turn in his presidency away from major initiatives and toward austerity, plus the extremism and eccentricity of the movement itself, tamped down the flames.
I’d also note that the IRS started flagging Tea Party application in early 2010, well before the midterm elections it helped the GOP take in a landslide.
Again, Noonan’s ramblings are printed in the biggest paper in the land, and she’s a pundit in good standing on Meet the Press. None of this will change no matter how long she continues to flog the whacked-out, evidence-free conspiracy theory that the president of the United States stole his re-election by unleashing the IRS on his enemies.