Our reading about the Tea Party offers an interesting view on how the Tea Party movement made its mark in and around the 2010 election. It states that activism is the greatest way the movement has influence, and backs up this claim with examples of Tea Partiers having having tangible effects. For example, Republicans in districts with high levels of Tea Party activism did better relative to other Republicans. Furthermore, on votes of Tea Party interest, legislators with high levels of TP activism in their district consistently took stands in favor of Tea Party stances. Finally, it is important to note that the Tea Party movement is a separate faction from the Republican party establishment/elite. After all, they rebelled against many incumbent republicans in the 2010 election.
Now, what was the Tea Party’s effect on the primaries?
First, I think of what Nation Hahn told our class regarding the Amendment One vote, “It’s all about getting your electorate to turn out.” With a tea party-mobilized electorate making their presence felt in the most recent midterm, would this translate to results in the presidential primary as well? With Romney as the establishment candidate and the Tea Party’s tendency to strike against the establishment, would high levels of Tea Party activism be linked to difficulty for Romney?
Upon examination of primary results, there is little consistency with high tea party activity in any state correlating with winning results from Romney’s competitors. For example, Massachusetts was the site of one of the Tea Party’s greatest electoral victories, with a republican being elected to replace Ted Kennedy. However, Romney took Massachusetts. Granted, Romney was governor of that state, however take South Carolina, a state Romney did lose– but not because of the tea party. Gingrich took South Carolina where per-capita tea party involvement as measured by PBS, was low.
Instead, I believe Romney’s losses were due to a lack of acceptance from evangelicals and far-leaning conservatives and those suspicious of the party establishment. Moreover, these bases were acting independently, rather than under the tea party umbrella.
This is consistent with the conception of a political party introduced at the beginning of the Tea Party reading, which introduces parties as coalitions of interests. This combined with the fact that the Tea Party’s real heyday was in the 2010 election (it does not have as big a feature role), translates into a diminished impact for primary results. No doubt, the Tea Party remains an important interest for the republican party, but the fact remains that despite its widespread coverage, it is still only a single entity among many others in the party- and it is no longer the flavor of the week.