What Happened to the Tea Party?

When the 2012 Republican nominating contest was getting underway earlier this year, it was widely predicted (I predicted it myself) that the race would eventually come down to a contest between an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, and a Tea Party candidate more appealing to the party's base. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time; after all, the Tea Party had energized the GOP and propelled it to the historic 2010 congressional election victory. With its anti-Obama fervor, the Tea Party was the focus of all the GOP's grassroots energy, to such a degree that nearly every Republican felt compelled to proclaim him or herself a Tea Partier. Once the Tea Party's champion was selected, we would discover just how much strength the party establishment still held in our decentralized political age.

Yet with the Iowa caucus just six weeks away, it appears that there will be no grand battle between the establishment and the insurgents, the old guard and the new. There is no Tea Party candidate. Or more properly, there has been one Tea Party candidate after another; the party base's fickle affections have left Romney trudging merrily along, tortoise-style, as one far-right hare after another sprints a few yards, then falls exhausted to the ground. Besides Romney, this race has been led at one time or another by Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich. Each of those other candidates has become the Tea Party flavor of the moment, only to flame out spectacularly when they were revealed to be alarmingly radical, grossly incompetent, shockingly ignorant, or all three. In other words, the Tea Party has not exactly been picking winners. Which could well mean their influence over the GOP is beginning to wind down.

Nevertheless, we must grant the Tea Party this: However pernicious you find its goals, there is little doubt that it has been a smashing success, in political if not substantive terms. Unlike other political movements that spend years trying to slowly build support, the Tea Party exploded in early 2009, quickly establishing itself as a national force that could capture attention, harangue Democrats, and purge Republican officeholders it found insufficiently devoted to conservative orthodoxy.

This happened in large part because the Tea Party's grassroots appeal to conservative Republicans was met with an opportunistic boost from elite Republicans who saw in the nascent movement a perfect vehicle through which to battle the Obama administration. As soon as the Tea Party appeared, groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks—staffed by experienced Republican operatives and funded by the usual corporate coffers—swept in to offer training and organizational support. And as Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson write in their excellent new book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, "the Tea Party cannot be understood without recognizing the mobilization provided by conservative media hosts who openly espouse and encourage the cause. From Fox News to right-wing radio jocks and bloggers, media impresarios have done a lot to create a sense of shared identity that lets otherwise scattered Tea Parties get together and feel part of something big and powerful. Media hosts also put out a steady diet of information and misinformation—including highly emotional claims—that keep Tea Party people in a constant state of anger and fear about the direction of the country and the doings of government officials."

This institutional support allowed the Tea Party to rapidly become a political force, but it has been far less successful at achieving its substantive goals. The Tea Party didn't stop the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and while it pushed deficit reduction to the top of the agenda, as of yet, it has not succeeded in dramatically reducing the size of government. When Tea Party Republicans brought the nation to the brink of default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, most of the American people were repulsed, leaving them far less able to mount another hostage crisis. Their apex of influence has passed, and it is unlikely to return.

When the Republican nominee is chosen -- whether it's Mitt Romney or someone else –- things are only going to get worse for the Tea Party. Every major-party nominee feels a need to move to the center upon winning the nomination, since he now has to persuade the broad electorate, not just the party faithful. The nominee will know all too well that the Tea Party is unpopular with independent voters, so little good can come of being associated with it. Imagine the spectacle of hemming and hawing that would ensue if Romney were asked in an October 2012 debate with Obama whether he considers himself a Tea Partier. His answer will no doubt make their blood boil.

It ought to have been predictable that the Tea Party would have trouble coming up with a candidate for president to take on Romney. Tea Partiers proudly proclaim that their movement has no leaders, but that leaves them unable to act as a bloc. They are, almost by definition, impractical activists, focused more on ideological purity than on winning. So it isn't a surprise that they have embraced one absurd candidate after another, from Trump to Bachmann to Cain, or that they have been unable to unify around anyone. And though we've heard a hundred times that Tea Partiers don't like Mitt Romney, what will they do if he becomes the nominee? They'll have two choices: sit on their hands, in which case they become completely irrelevant, or get in line behind the nominee with the rest of the Republican coalition, in which case they become almost irrelevant, at least as a distinct faction. They'll do the latter, of course -– after all, they're partisan Republicans, and nothing is more important to them than their hatred of Barack Obama.

When it's over—whoever wins—the Tea Party will no longer seem like such a dangerous beast that must be appeased. Republicans will look at the damage the Tea Party has done to the GOP's image—the debt-ceiling debacle, the promotion of ridiculous candidates like Bachmann and Cain—and be rather more hesitant to appease them. In fact, the best thing that could happen to them would be for Barack Obama to be re-elected. After all, the Tea Party is fundamentally a movement of opposition, all anger and resentment. It has shown itself quite clearly to have no interest in governing. And so, the Tea Party has a hard and fast expiration date: the first day of the next Republican presidency. On that day, it will become little more than a memory—one of a fascinating and significant episode in our political history, but a memory nonetheless.


Seriously, an article devoted to the topic of the Tea Party, and the guy whose 2008 campaign kick-started it and who's in a dead-heat for the Iowa caucuses is not mentioned at all?

Actually we have one other option, though it is an admittedly harder row to hoe.
We can attempt to capture Super Majorities in Congress, thus making the Presidency irrelevant.

Agreed! In spades! It's all about Congress! Karl Rove is a vile human being, and one of the smartest political operatives ever. He is spending his time, and the money from his fat donors lists, on Congressional races only. He's not focusing on the White House at all. That is exactly what progressive Democrats should be doing as well.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, "The reports of the Tea Party's death are greatly exaggerated"

The Tea Party has never been an in your face National News generating movement. This was for a few reasons, the most notable of which is the MSM refuses to cover it. It is why the Occupy movement was spawned and is so ferverishly covered by the MSM, an effor to take over the true grassroots movement and the silent majority of this country. The left loves to change the descriptors to hide the ball and the MSM refuses to cover the driving elements of the Occupy Movement, namelt the far left, unions, and the progressives. Unfortunately, those elements can't help themselves and the movement has stayed in the spotlight, so have the crimes, filth, and radicalicalization of the movement. Its dead as a door nail.

As far as the Tea Party goes, it always has worked by applying pressure in a more local manner. It runs candiates for the House and Senate. It is the reason the Rublicans have the majority in the House and will probably gain it in the Senate in 2012. Make no mistake, if the Tea Party get apathic or sits out the election, the Republicans will lose all advantages they currently have or anticipate getting.

The MSM wants to coronate Mitt (primarilay because he is the one candidate that Obama can beat), but most Rebuplicans despise him. He will not win the nomination. He is in a dog fight with several candidates that are favored by the Tea Party and as the season shakes out, the nominee will be backed by the Tea Party.

Do you think Obama can be beaten by Bachmann, or Cain, or Perry, or Gingrich?!! Romney is where he is because he is the only one with any chance of beating Obama. Huntsman would have been a better candidate, but the Tea Party Republicans have turned away from reality/sanity, so no more Huntsman.

"The Tea Party has never been an in your face National News generating movement."
Excuse me? That's a complete rewrite of history. You couldn't watch the news or read a commentary page either liberal or conservative for months without having the tea-party in your face. That includes MSM on a nightly basis.

It's another case of selective memory kinda like Paul Revere rode to warn the British that the Americans were coming, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in, uh, er, New Hampshire, our founding fathers intended for church and state to function as a unit, Franklin D. Roosevelt caused The Great Depression, those dang libruls lied about Joseph McCarthy, he was a hero, the NAZIS were socialists because the party had socialist in it's name never mind that the NAZIS hated socialists, communists, people of color, liberals, Jews, homosexuals and anybody else not of the fascist persuasion.

Boy, do you have scales in you eyes. Romney the one candidate Obama can beat? Poll after poll has shown that he has the best chance of beating Obama than the other dumbniacs in the primary. As for the candidates favored by the tea party, yeah, pick a winner. And stay with him/her. You've all been playing musical candidates with them all, each one taking turns as the flavor of the week. One makes a stupid gaffe or rambles on about how China needs to be kept from getting nuclear weapons when they've had them for decades, and the devoted find another messiah. Tea partiers are almost like teen-aged girls who can't decide what to wear for the prom. I have to disagree with the OP writer though. The reason the tea party will fade into irrelevance is age demographics. The average tea partier is white, over 65, pre-segregationist, and pre-Civil Rights. The majority of the GOP base is white and elderly. The future of America consists of minorities becoming the majorities in another couple of decades, a demographic that tends to vote Democrat. So do younger voters by large margins. They're tolerant and supportive of such social issues as gay marriage, and women's reproductive choice. They're concerned about income inequality and many veterans, like myself, are angry and confused about wars we fought that had no relevance to WMDs or connections to Saddam Hussein and that resulted in anger and hatred of us by the Iraqi people that we were told would be grateful to us. So, in the future, Republicans won't be able to whip a young electorate into a frenzy with hot button issues like the Gay Agenda, race-baiting, anti-choice, tax breaks for Donald Trump, and overseas involvements that benefitted the defense contractors with trillions in profits. And the majority of their elderly, white electorate will be a minority.

Also, look at who is in the House and Senate...Tea Party members. If the next President does not work with them....nothing will get done. So go ahead and proclaim the Tea Party dead...the MSM has never wanted to give it its due or recognize them and your liberal bias shines through in your article. Its a shame because you do a great job most of the time, but you are off base here because of yout political bias.

The TPARTY was and is a creation of the KOCHROACHES AND FOX. They were funded by the rich ones in order to persue a political objective of beating Obama and promoting the permanency of the power of the repugs.

Absolutely! And lets not forget the military Industrial complex and those evil jews! it's a CONspiracy I tell ya.

Don't omit the ur-puppeteer, Grover Norquist: he's the master manipulator who makes Dumbpublican Congresspeople to sign a pledge not to raise taxes, lest he mo-lest them in their next elections.

Along that line, re the previous comment that the TP prefers to apply pressure by running candidates for the House and the Senate: given their stellar performances in turning off the majority of The American People, they must be delusional to think they can achieve Super Majorities anywhere, except in their local TP caucuses.

Whatever else you can say about the tea party, they used the system to bring about enormous change. And this is what irritates me so much about the Left, which has given up on the electoral system and thinks occupying parks will get them what they want - whatever that is. The TPers are the living breathing embodiment of the system and the Left says the system doesn't work. It makes me angry that the Left isn't at home getting left-of-center politicians elected - finding new ones, pounding the streets for others like Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson.

Maybe you can explain to us just what the Tea Baggers have done for this country besides spreading hate and discontent. They are a flash in the pan. Merely a bunch of closet racists.

The presidential race requires big money from rich Republican and Democrat insiders. Only a non-corporate candidate with celebrity has the chance to win the presidency. The Tea Party is more effective at the House level and local and state elections. The Tea Party is not going away as long as the private sector continues to be under assault.

We'd need to do some quality polling on this but the phrase "Tea Party candidate more appealing to the party's base" or similar always makes me wonder about its accuracy. I actually know some Republicans here in a pretty much upper middle class area in the most Republican section of the state. I don't know one who confuses Marxism with socialism, believes the birther nonsense, or shows up at town halls with AK-47s.

Would there even be a Tea Party at this point without the massive corporate sponsorship that keeps them organized and focused? Doubtful, given that virtually every major Tea Party group is a for-profit enterprise with generous sponsorship from a handful of wealthy conservatives.
I understand that a lot of people were unhappy with Obama's election, for a variety of reasons, but I suspect that their malaise was harnessed and coopted by people with a more specific agenda.
They say they want "their country back", but from whom? Would they be happier with the small group of folks who control most of America if they had a white Republican in the White House? Nothing else is likely to change, the rich will continue to get richer, while the rest of us barely hold our ground, if that.

Your computer keeps saying my comment is "obscene."
Since there are no obscene words in my commnet, I can't fix the problem.
The only solution is to totally ignore TAP from now on.

What the f--k did you say?

We spent May-August 2011 going door to door in far northern Wisconsin campaigning for a wonderful Democratic state senator being challenged in a recall by a female tea party candidate. he won--55 % to 45%. 45% of the voters in the district voted for a candidate who had no credentials whatsoever-- zip, none, nothing. she would not debate, because she knew nothing about any issue. yet, she got 45% of the vote to take the place of a truly remarkable public servant. the tea party is alive and well and you will hear from them again.

oh-- we talked to a lot of tea partiers as we canvassed. we can discern no difference in ideology between tea partyism and libertarianism.

BTW, heartfelt thanks for your efforts in Skandihoovian Wiscahnsin! That was an impressive win, even though the opponent seemingly represented a "fish first, understand issues later" constituency.

The Tea Party is like Frankenstein it is now more a threat to the Republican Party, its creator, than it is to the American Public. The drive toward ideological purity as a litmus test for their support has undermined the need for flexibility and compromise in a political party that needs to work with the Democrats. We don't do dictatorships here. The Republicans got themselves a pass when the economic bubble burst so late in the Bush II presidency. Obama should have branded them with the responsibility of causing a recession that would not have happened if the Republican deregulation and ineffective government is what governs best mania didn't prevail. His analogy about how the GOP drove the American economic car into the ditch and now they want the keys back is typical Obama- always the adult in the picture - but really was too kind to adults not adolescents who ruined people's lives, their jobs, their savings, their homes their futures and those of future generations. Having not slayed the Republcian dragon it came back with a vengeance in Summer 2009 aided by the folks in funny hats who mostly railed against big government and not big business who got big government to bail them out of bad business decisions.

The Tea Party is not dead; the Republican Party is. It is a political party that cannot govern without causing Tahrir like demonstrations nationwide. Actually more dangerous than the Tea Party is the segment of the American electorate that views ignorance and attitude as qualifiers for the most important job in the world - hence the Republican field of presidential candidates.

This is (yet) another example of The Death of the Tea Party Movement (Re-re-redux)...The idea that if you say something enough, it just might become reality..

Political Wrinkles

The mainstream media has, in fact, angled far to the right in the past 3 years. They're after the money, so formerly neutral media outlets now present Tea Party views lest they risk alienating a huge bloc of viewers. It's frightening to behold, as the Tea Party espouses only a rabid, narrow and fanciful doctrine. One that is bought, paid for and sustained by very rich, very unkind people. The speed and fervent nature of the rise of the Tea Party (in itself a complete mis-understanding of the original Boston tea party) reminds me of some very scary political juggernauts of the past.

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