Going into the second week of the Government being partially shut down there has been much debate over who is to blame, and the favorite target has been the Tea Party. There have also been calls for the Tea Party to split from the Republican Party and go it alone. Could this work? Could the Tea Party actually be successful?
First we should look at just who makes up the tea party movement. There are many definitions of who and what the Tea Party movement is and how it started. Although it is generally agreed that an on-air “rant” by CNBC’s Rick Santelli on February 19, 2009 helped push it along it was already under way. He was talking about the Obama administration’s proposal to help failing homeowners refinance their mortgages. Although many politicians claim they were the founders of the tea party movement, like Al Gore inventing the Internet, it just didn’t happen that way.
As hard as it is to define who and when it started, what is harder to define is what the Tea Party actually stands for. Most groups have at least three principles or goals in common. Here is the stated mission of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the larger coalitions of local groups: “The Tea Party Patriots’ mission is to restore America’s founding principles of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” After this the goals get a little fuzzier.
After the first wave of successful rallies the tea party movement began to diverge into several groups, with the same three core principles but different secondary agendas. Some groups followed the Agenda 21 path, believing that we are heading to a new world order being led by the United Nations. Other groups have followed the theory that President Obama isn’t a United States citizen and should be removed from office. Then there is the “Impeach Obama” crowd for all kinds of reasons and the anti-illegal immigration proponents. And of course there were the groups which leaned heavily towards social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Many of the groups which formed after the initial rallies were co-opted by these fringe groups who managed to infiltrate and change their directions, veering from the original core principles. This brought with it the perception the movement was full of wackos and people with various prejudices and therefore were not taken seriously. To this day there are claims of bigotry, homophobia racism, none of which has actually been proven to be true.
There was, and still is, a concerted effort by the mainstream media and established career politicians, especially those in both political parties who were threatened by the existence of the tea party, to discredit them. All of a sudden these career politicians were being held accountable for their actions, especially their wasteful spending. There are those who still believe in the core principles of the movement and who refuse to veer from that course. These are the ones who would lead any movement to create a third party.
Currently the tea party is not a political party as we know them today. There is no party leadership, even though some have claimed they are the leader at different times. There is no formal party organization rather some loosely formed coalitions between the different groups. Because there is no formal party organization it could be difficult to run candidates for major offices such as the presidency but not impossible.
One point in favor of the tea party movement, unlike other previous and current third parties is it already has strong support in some areas of the country such as the south and mid-west. There was a time in this country when this may not have mattered much but the 2010 census shows population is moving towards these areas. One of the reasons is the conservative views found in these areas, with their low taxes and pro-business policies. These areas could possibly take enough votes away from the other two parties to make a difference and actually win.
The second point is there are already many popular politicians who are affiliated with the tea party movement. Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Rand Paul are just four of them. Even though they are constantly attacked by the press and others, they have a lot of support among voters.
Whoever is to blame for the government shutdown and the budget crisis is immaterial. The longer this goes on the more people will be fed up with everyone. Polls are already showing this. In a poll conducted for NBC and the Wall Street Journal for the period of 9/13 to 10/7, 70% of the respondents disapprove of the job Republicans are doing and 59% disapprove of the job Democrats are doing. In addition 60% of the respondents said if given the chance they would vote to replace every single member of Congress they would. If these numbers stay this way this could be a chance for more tea party candidates to win in the mid-term elections.
Could this happen? If enough people who have “Had enough!” get their acts together, it very well could.
Commentary by: Paul Roy