Predictions are always dangerous since life has a nasty habit of upending even our firmest, most grounded expectations. But the infamous Tea Party does seem to be gasping for breath.
For the last few years, the Tea Party has held America by its throat with its anti-government, anti-taxes, anti-spending, anti-social safety net, anti-immigration, and anti-compromise politics. They succeeded in bludgeoning our political process into a state of paralysis by seizing control of the Republican Party and stacking the House of Representatives with far right Tea Party representatives in 2010. Under their tutelage, the Republican Party became the “Party of No,” refusing to compromise and thereby undermining democracy itself which can only function on the give and take of compromise. Populated by many on the religious right who see the world in terms of good vs. evil (they, of course, being good), the Tea Party’s unwillingness to compromise feeds a hatred and demonization of those who disagree with them, that is, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, liberals, “socialists,” “commies,” you name it. Suffice to say, the country has suffered badly at their hands.
Dare we hope it will end? The signs seem to say it will.
Since the Tea Party saw strong Congressional gains for the Republican Party in the mid-term election of 2010, their agenda has clearly lost public backing. The erosion in public support has been steady. As early as a year after the election, in November, 2011, the Tea Party suffered a loss of support nationwide. But interestingly, it lost even more support in those 60 congressional districts with newly elected Tea Party representatives in the House. Whereas 55% of people in these districts had a favorable opinion of the GOP in March of that year, the Republican Party’s favorability rating had dropped to 41% by November. (Pew Research)
Five months later, in April of 2012, half of those polled nationwide said that the more they hear about the Tea Party, the less they like it. In that same poll, the support of young adults for the Tea Party dropped from 51% to 31%. (ABC News/Washington Post)
In this year’s election, the Tea Party lost one in six of the Congressional seats gained in 2010. Bearing in mind that these districts tend to be very conservative, this erosion is not insignificant. What’s more, the Tea Party watched some of their most prominent candidates go down in defeat: Allen West in Florida, Joe Walsh in Illinois, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Senator Todd Aikin of Missouri. Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann struggled to retain her seat.
In conservative South Carolina, an early leader in Tea Party activity, support for the party has dropped precipitously. In 2010, 30% of South Carolina Republicans supported the Tea Party. Today less than 10% of the state’s Republicans support the Tea Party, while only 5% of registered voters do. (Winthrop University)
In addition, Tea Party membership seems to be down in areas around the country. For example, Everett Wilkinson, a Florida Tea Party leader, admits the number of active groups throughout the state has “diminished significantly” to the point that there are now only a third the number of groups remaining.
Then there’s the turmoil within the ranks of the partiers. Numerous accounts of what happened at FreedomWorks, an umbrella group backing the Tea Party and its candidates, show a movement in disarray. Dick Armey, Chairman of FreedomWorks ultimately left, or was driven out, as a power struggle unfolded. The group had, of course, spent mega-bucks backing Tea Party candidates who lost, like Josh Mandel of Ohio, Connie Mack of Florida, and others.
Notably missing of late is the same level of bombast from Tea Party folks. Nor have we seen the old public demonstrations and rallies for some time.
What’s more, voices within the Republican Party are increasingly speaking out against the excesses of the Tea Party. The New York Times has reported on this growing chorus. For example, Fergus Cullen, former chair of the party in New Hampshire complained publically that “People in positions of responsibility within the Republican Party tolerated too much of this . . . They sort of smiled, winked and nodded too often, when they should have been calling ‘crazy, crazy.’” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma commented on the Tea Party, “We’ve thrown away some seats out of political immaturity.” The Florida State Senate president has pushed back against Tea Party members demanding that states “nullify” the Affordable Care Act after the Supreme Court upheld the law. Mr. Gaetz called the whole idea of nullification “kooky,” saying, “It’s dangerous to the foundation of the republic when we pick and choose which laws we will obey.”
There are even signs that maybe some of the Tea Party’s Republican colleagues have had enough. Two Tea Party conservatives were recently kicked off the House Budget committee – Tom Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan. It’s very rare for rank and file committee members to be stripped of committee assignments.
All of this is not to say that the Tea Party exerts no power. They enjoyed some successes in the last election. Indiana elected Mike Pence governor and Ted Cruz of Texas won a senate seat. Clearly, many Republicans in Congress still fear primary battles with Tea Party upstarts, real or imagined, and so will bow to their demands. And given the ongoing extreme dysfunction of the House of Representatives, they obviously still have the power to muck up Congress.
But, overall, things don’t look good for Tea Party politics – not like they looked just one or two years ago. It well may turn out to be one of the shortest lived movements in American history.
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