Obama has an interesting strategic decision to make about how to engage the Tea Party.  If there is one power that the President has, even when he has lost momentum policy-wise, it is to control attention.  How should he use this power in relation to the Tea Party?

Right now the Tea Party has few leaders, and none with any real power. Obama can essentially anoint a leader by picking him/her out of the crowd and engaging directly.  For example, by personally responding in a press conference to some attack and addressing the Tea Partier by name.  As the Tea Party tries to internally organize, a well-targeted salvo could throw a wrench in the works. On the other hand, it could backfire and provide them with a much-needed lightning rod.

He could frame the upcoming election as “sane, albeit perhaps incompetent Democrats” versus “nutty Tea Partiers.”  By doing so he would raise the stakes for the Tea Party higher than they might want to make them.  In its infancy, the Tea Party may not be ready for an up-or-out test.

Obama could be wisely waiting until after this election to make any move like this.  It may even be that he and the Tea Party have a mutual interest in keeping their profile low for now.  Because making this election out to be a test of the Tea Party’s fitness can only really have consequences in the event they fail to make a good showing.  In that case, the Tea Party disappears and Obama loses a potentially valuable third-party threat in 2012.

Instead, if they tacitly agree to view the Tea Party as too young to be a big contender this November, they both keep their hopes alive in the event of defeat.  Which of course means that the mainstream Republicans should have exactly the opposite incentive.

Now I am trying to figure out how this fits in with the story.