The Tea Party came at a crucial time for the Republicans. In an era of down swinging momentum for the party, the Tea Party became a revitalizing force to bring the GOP back into the political sphere. In 2008, with the election of a black president with a progressive agenda, a democratic majority in the house and the senate and George W Bush on his way out of office with raging unpopularity, the GOP needed something, and fast.
CNBC reporter, Rick Santelli, first said the Tea Party title in the public sphere. While on the air, Santelli went on a rant against the Obama administration and the way they were handling the mortgage situation.
“The government is rewarding bad behavior,” he said. He then invited “American Capitalists” to a Chicago Tea Party. This was taken by conservatives as PR Gold, and protests were planned under the Tea Party Name.
The Tea Party will go down in history alongside the Obama administration. They stirred things up, were the constant subject of the news and have now become almost synonymous with the Republican Party. However, the Government shutdown has turned the general public against the movement and has even caused some politicians to jump ship to the opposing party. While Democrats once feared the power of the tea party, they now may be thanking them in the next election seasons.
Contrary to what the media may portray, Tea Partiers are only a very small majority of Americans. Demographically, Tea Partiers are older, white, middle class Americans, the majority of whom are male. Tea Partiers have higher incomes than most Americans and 43% have either worked on or donated money to a political campaign. (1)
A lot of the tactics for Tea Party organization deal with the online application, MeetUp. Rallies, seminars, candidate fundraisers as well as less formal events such as bar-b-qs and book clubs are organized through this site. However, although the media has portrayed these groups as large and in charge, a closer look into the MeetUp site reveals that this may not be the case. Only 16 MeetUp Tea Party groups had more than 500 members, and of those, seven were in Florida and 4 were in Texas. (1)
Although the Tea Party has no National Organization, they connect with groups such as The Tea Party Express and Tea Party Patriots in order to gain National legitimacy. These national organizations are intertwined with Freedomworks, a multimillion-dollar conservative non-profit whose slogan is “Lower taxes, less government, more freedom.” However, many tea partiers don’t know about this web of political organizations, and many of their beliefs don’t end up matching exactly with what these organizations are funding. Because there is no obvious source of authority or resources, the fate of the tea party enthusiasm is not linked to the political fortunes of any one candidate. (1)
Fox news has had a lot to do with tea party success and exposure. Fox sets the conservative agenda, and other conservative outlets take notes from the network on what is important to talk about and what is crucial to hit on. Although the Tea Party has many different agendas and identities, the conservative media has made the public believe that there is one unified and collective identity and has helped the mobilization efforts by capitalizing on this concept. (1)
The amount of time that Fox news reported on the Tea Party did not match the amount of time that the general news sources thought the group was newsworthy. CNN, for example, only talked about the Tea Party during one of their National events, while Fox news talked about them all year long, especially leading up to events. Some Fox News reporters even hosted their shows at these events and sponsored the rallies. Debra Mincoff stated, “rather than serving a journalistic or even propagandistic function, Fox News in effect acts as a national social movement organization. (1)
Lately, the Tea Party has been in the news in a negative way. Although they tried to frame the government shutdown as the fault of the democrats, the truth eventually came out, and the GOP, specifically the Tea Party candidates, ended up looking like the bad guys. Voters are claiming to vote out their republican incumbents as a direct result of the shutdown. Beyond that, not only do GOPs look bad, but Tea Partiers look worse. In the first major divide in the Republican Party in some time, many Republican house members spoke out against their tea party peers. (2)
8 in 10 Americans said they disapproved the shutdown. Two in three republicans share this negative view. Even a majority of those who support the tea party movement thought that the shutdown was a bad thing. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll showed that 53% of Americans thought that the shutdown was solely the republicans’ fault. During the midst of the shutdown, even with all of the controversial coverage, Obama’s approval rating remained constant. The approval rating of the Republican Party, however, sunk to an all time low with only 32% of the country having a favorable view of them. (2)
Beyond that, the Tea Party was doing even worse. Less than a quarter of Americans view the Tea Party favorably after the shutdown. While tea party supporters all blamed Obama for the shutdown, among republicans who don’t support the tea party, only half blamed the president at all. 73% of non-tea-party republicans say that they disapprove of the way GOP lawmakers affiliated with the tea party handled the negotiations. (2)
Beyond simple dissatisfaction, some Republicans running for office, including Jason Thigpen, a NC House candidate from North Carolina, have simply left the party in disgust.
“The extremism of the GOP is driving moderates into the huge welcoming tent of the Democrats. Judges, military veterans, congressional candidates, and even voters are finally waking up to the fact that the GOP only stands for fear, hate, racism, sexism, and voter suppression.”
Thigpen believes that this is not a phase and that the Republican Party has taken a turn for the worst. And as a veteran, he takes it personally. “I didn’t go to war to defend the liberties and freedoms of one Party, race, sex, or one income class of Americans. Whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian, man, woman, gay, lesbian, straight, rich, or poor – we fought together as equals, side-by-side for the benefit of every American in the same. So, to come home from serving our country and see North Carolina legislators using their super-majority status to gerrymander districts and pass a law to deliberately suppress and oppress the voting rights of Democrats but more specifically minorities and college students, is absolutely deplorable.”
Because the Tea Party is losing its momentum, and quickly, it seems like many Republicans are only seeing the downside to running with the Tea Partiers on their side. The shutdown was a major turning point for the Republican Party. For now, with a united front on the left and a divided house on the right, this may be the time of a lifetime for Democrats. If the Republican Party continues to divide, and the Tea Party doesn’t decide to let up, this could be the beginning of a three party system in the congressional races.
1. Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. (2011). “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” Perspectives on Politics 9(1), 25-43.