For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.
Yesterday I asked whether Texas voters would punish those incumbents who approved billions in state education cuts. I didn't even mention the billions of dollars in cuts to health and human services—or that despite these cuts, critical structural revenue problems remain in the state, which means this coming session will be worse. I just wondered whether incumbents would suffer for the session's austere approach.
If the 2012 Republican nomination race effectively has dwindled to two, what’s striking is how the Tea Party has vanished from the competition. Having virtually taken over the Republican Party two years ago, jettisoning in the process garden-variety right-wingers in order to nominate former witches, now the Tea Party is hard-pressed to identify which dog in the current hunt is theirs. Social conservative Ron Santorum and East Coast establishment Mitt Romney both are throwbacks to earlier Republican incarnations: Santorum is damned by his Senate record of earmarks and government spending, and on the issue of health-care reform that helped galvanize the Tea Party’s existence, Romney is the original sinner. Meanwhile, the two candidates closest to speaking for the Tea Party position, Congressman Ron Paul and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, are ghosts who have not gotten the message they’re dead.
I respect any reporters who go out and do the work of actually talking to ordinary people, and I especially respect any political reporters who do so, because too much of our elite political reporting takes place within the self-contained Beltway terrarium of politicians, consultants, think-tankers, and other relatively useless fauna. And I have no doubt that the people to whom Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson spoke said the things they are reported to have said, and that they think the things they are reported to think.
Lavine and his colleagues designed an online survey and got responses from a sample of about 800 citizens, including many who expressed sympathy for the Tea Party and many who did not. The survey asked about programs designed to help people who can’t keep up with their mortgage payments stay in their homes…
As camps around the country face evictions, many are wondering how (or if) the Occupy movement can build on the national media attention the protests have received. Considering the example of the Tea Party may offer some interesting perspective.
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.
There's a well-traveled saying, generally attributed to social theorist Eric Hoffer, that goes like this: Every great movement starts out as a cause, turns into a business, and eventually devolves into a racket. Well it looks like some folks are finding new and innovative ways to make the Tea Party a part of their business. Consider the story of Gibson Guitars, which was recently raided by the feds as part of an investigation into the illegal importation of endangered woods, and then made itself into a Tea Party hero.
The op-ed of the day is from political scientists David Campbell and Robert Putnam, reporting on surveys they have done that contain in-depth analysis of Tea Partiers. What's different about their data is that they did a panel study (where the same respondents are interviewed at multiple times) that began in 2006, before the Tea Party emerged. That means they can look at today's Tea Partiers and know who they were before. And guess what: the prevailing narrative around the Tea Party -- that it's made up of folks who were not politically involved before, but just got mad about government spending -- is false. It's worth quoting at length:
Norman Ornstein makes a good observation: While the components of the Affordable Care Act were very popular, the act itself was not, and the opposite happened with the tax-cut deal President Obama struck with Republicans in December. The components (particularly extending tax cuts for the wealthy) were not popular, but the deal was. The reason, of course, is process: When the process looks smooth and cooperative, people think Washington is "getting things done," but when it's fractious and angry, it looks like Washington is bickering. The substance is almost irrelevant. Ornstein argues, therefore, that the Tea Partiers misunderstood their mandate:
Stephanie Mencimer writes that Tea Party activist Mark Meckler is convinced that Playwright David Mamet became a conservative because of the Tea Party Movement:
But Meckler also found evidence of the tea party's influence in Mamet's new book, which the tea party leader had been reading on the airplane en route to DC for the conference. Meckler explained to the audience that Mamet had been what he now calls a "brain-dead liberal," and for decades part of the depraved Hollywood cultural elite. But now, Meckler said, "David Mamet publicly came out as a conservative... This is a cultural shift that has never happened before in this country."
South Carolina's The State newspaper (h/t/ Ben Smith) reports on a Tea Party rally at the statehouse featuring the governor herself that didn't really turn out as planned. They expected 2,000 people, but when Donald Trump canceled on them, Nikki Haley spoke to a crowd of only 30. Here's the sad, sad photo:
The Tea Party may continue to alter races across the country, and could also shape the Republican presidential field. But it appears to have reached the limit of its influence in Washington. Here, where it counts most, the Tea Party is looking like a spent force.