After 3 Years, Where’s the Tea Party?
Three years ago, they came into the political scene, mad as hell, demanding their country back. They participated in public rallies, and even chose their own candidates for congress. But today, their voices seem somewhat silent. Is the Tea Party dead? According to some members, they are quite alive, just restructured. They talk about the Obama administration’s policies regarding insurance for birth control, about how to become a delegate to the conventions that help determine the Texas GOP’s leaders and platform.
The group considers themselves very much alive, as they meet the back room of a Jim’s Restaurant in San Antonio and many other places across the land. Three years ago, they stormed into grassroots America, with a memorable rant by a reporter on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Then came the giant Tax Day rallies. The jeers at town hall meetings about a still fledging national health care proposal. Protests in Washington, D.C., with Beck, and bus tours featuring Sarah Palin.
They turned the tides in the 2010 election, by defeating many Democrats running for congress when they elected Republicans. They sent many new conservatives to governors’ mansions, statehouses and helped to fuel the largest turnover in the U.S. House in more than 70 years. But where are they now?
The so called offshoots of the Tea Party, called the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks and others haven’t, to date, put their names behind any one candidate. And only in recent weeks have tea party darlings such as U.S. senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah finally weighed in _ endorsing likely nominee Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whom some see as un-tea-party-like as one could be, in part because of his state’s own health care reform law.
Even a few local tea parties are divided over which is important – whether to make conservative economic principles or conservative social issues paramount. Others, such as the Tennessee Tea Party, have disbanded altogether.
In researching her recent book, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” Harvard professor Theda Skocpol found that about 1,000 local tea party groups formed in 2009-2010. Today, she estimates there are about 600. A declining number, yes, but still what Skocpol, an expert on civic engagement, calls “a very good survival rate.”
“They’re not dressing up and going to demonstrations in the street. They’re meeting. They’re poring over the legislative records of these Republicans that they’ve elected. They’re contacting their representatives, and they’re keeping the pressure on. They’re following the debates, and they’re going and they’re voting. “They’re determined,” she says, “and they haven’t gone away.”
The Tea Party never was a third political party, although at one time some members considering making it so. In fact, the Tea Party is an ideology and a style of politics _ one that has been in the business of pulling the Republican Party away from the possibility of compromising with Democrats and further toward the hard right. Though not true, some believe they’ve actually taken over the Republican party.
Today, tea party activists are still hard at work promoting a conservative ideology at all levels of government, in part by targeting longtime GOP incumbents deemed not conservative enough. Take this year’s congressional races. Though no one expects the type of gains seen in 2010, national tea party-related groups are backing candidates in vital races as part of an effort to not only keep GOP control of the House but possibly gain control of the Senate and move Congress more to the right.
The first upset in the 2012 election, an incumbent congresswoman in Ohio has fallen to a tea party-backed challenger in that state’s primary. Still to come are the two high-profile primaries featuring tea party targets Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the two most senior Republican members of the Senate.
A Washington DC group, FreedomWorks has provided both money and training for tea party activists and candidates, has spent some $650,000 opposing Hatch, whom the group calls “the consummate Washington insider” with a record that “is decidedly opposed to the goals of the tea party” > in part because he voted for the Wall Street bailout in 2008.
And in Lugar’s re-election bid, he is facing a bigger threat in his May 8 primary. State Treasurer Richard Mourdock has been endorsed by a coalition of Indiana tea party groups called Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate but also by national organizations including FreedomWorks, the anti-tax Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express, some of which have spent several hundred thousands of dollars supporting Lugar’s opponent.
Also there is influence by the Tea Party in the campaign of Mitt Romney, even if many harbor deep suspicions that he is a Massachusetts moderate. He has begun promoting some tea party-friendly positions, including a plan to partially privatize Medicare. And his stump speeches are sprinkled with lines that play to the tea party crowd, whether he’s denouncing “career politicians” or imparting the virtues of the Constitution and the founding fathers or accusing President Barack Obama of wanting to “fundamentally transform” America and turn it into a “European-style entitlement society” with “burdensome regulations” that expand the role of government.
But where the Tea Party can be seen working the most is in the local and state area. More tea party-backed candidates are running for county and state Republican leadership positions, with the aim of having a bigger say in the party’s agenda and direction. This has happened in South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Minnesota and Ohio, where the head of the state GOP resigned this month after a much-publicized battle between him and the governor, as well as tea party groups that aligned against him.
In New Hampshire in 2010, where Republicans won the super majority, in both the state House and Senate, a recent poll of GOP primary voters found most saying they no longer support the tea party movement. That echoes a November Pew Research Center poll, which found waning support nationwide for the tea party but also in those congressional districts now represented by members of the House Tea Party Caucus.
But as many members say, you may not see them, nor are they holding signs, the Tea Party is still active. To better grasp the evolution of the movement, simply follow the journeys of its people.
In March 2010, Hildy Angius, a retired public relations specialist, drove from her condo in Bullhead City, Ariz., to the huge tea party rally in Searchlight, Nev. what some called the Woodstock of conservatism. Then, she was president of her local Republican women’s club. Now, she serves as vice chair of the Mohave County Republican Party and is running for county supervisor.
The Tea Party grew from an idea that an ordinary person could make a difference, and 60-year-old Bruce Baillio now feels the same. After the Tax Day rally of 2009, he went home, set his tea party flag aside and went on with life, keeping up with politics but not getting involved. Then he read about a Houston tea party group’s call for poll watchers to prevent what they considered possible election fraud. He was trained as an election judge and, urged on by a fellow church member who now serves as head of the San Antonio Tea Party, began attending his neighborhood tea party meetings. Soon enough, he was leading the group.
Tea party members are showing up regularly at city council meetings, and showing up at county commission meetings on a regular basis. And they are holding elected officials accountable. Political candidates are also coming to them, seeking votes and volunteers. Matt Beebe, a conservative newcomer says, “The tea party … has provided a backdrop where the opportunity to beat an entrenched incumbent exists,” he says. “They’re putting their money where their mouth is. They’re putting their time and effort where their mouth is, and so I feel like they are absolutely significant.”
Beebe says it’s the Tea Party paving the way for more conservative candidates to seek office.
This entry was posted on Friday, April 20th, 2012 at 8:36 am and is filed under Elections and Campaigns, In the News, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Comments are closed.