Whither the Tea Party?

Recent polling shows that just 8% of voters now consider themselves to be Tea Party members, down from 24% shortly after the passage of Obamacare. Peggy Lee’s 1969 classic “Is That All There Is?” comes to mind. (Do watch the video for the full impact.) What happened?

At it’s height, the Tea Party tried to define itself in the mission statement of the Tea Party Patriots: The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets. Nothing about guns, illegals, abortion, or foreign wars. In that mode, they were the energy behind the Republican wave that gained 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, 22 state legislative chambers, and 5 governorships in 2010.

In two short years the leaderless movement has almost dissolved. The 49-member Tea Party Caucus in the House, led by Michelle Bachmann, has been unable to stop party leadership from agreeing to the January 1, Obama tax increases or the $60 billion grabbag Hurricane Sandy “stimulus lite”, with its AmTrack upgrades, national highway reconstruction, and all manner of unrelated spending. Financial conservatives have been removed from the Financial Services and Budget committees. None of the Tea Party members in the Senate – Rand Paul of Kentucky; Mike Lee of Utah; Jerry Moran of Kansas – bothered with a filibuster on the tax increases.

The Republican Party is a coalition of interest groups – evangelicals, small business owners, national security hawks, libertarians, gun owners, financial elites. In 2010 the Party leaders welcomed the Tea Party numbers and energy, fearing a “worst case” third party revolt. In 2012, they nominated a patrician who, I believe, would have been a great president, but whose campaign did not articulate or personify the mantra of fiscal responsibility and limited government. We true believers expected that an organized effort and a “fiscal prudence” theme would produce a great turnout. It didn’t. Romney’s defeat was particularly crushing to the amateurs who first became engaged in politics just two years ago. And the media’s constant drumbeat has caused the public to identify “Tea Party” with any form of extremism.

Where to now? Obama apparently believes that he has the measure of John Boehner and the House Republicans and that he can get massive debt limit increases and more tax increases without giving on entitlement reform or general spending reductions. Some 63% of Republican voters think that Republicans in Congress have lost touch with the values of their electorate. Meanwhile, the media have grown tired of the fiscal cliff and ignore the impending automatic spending cuts, having moved on to the more interesting issue du jour, the debate over gun control.

Maybe if there is a bolt out of the blue there will be a rebirth of concern about debt and inflation sometime in the next couple of years, but a better bet is to follow Peggy Lee’s nihilistic advice and “let’s keep dancing.”


This week’s video is candidate Obama’s 2008 demagogueing against President Bush’s $4 trillion in deficits over 8 years – about half of his pace.