Right-wing billionaires have been trying to create a group like the Tea Party for more than a generation. The goal was a movement that combined the fervor of evangelicals with anti-government populism — contagious beyond the pews.
In 2009, the inauguration of the first African-American president in the midst of the worst financial crisis in 50 years provided the opportunity for a “non-partisan” movement to rise up. The myth that the Tea Party wasn’t of, by and for the Republican Party was promoted by Fox News, which was also promoting Tea Party rallies.
The Republicans who quickly became the face of the movement — like the party’s most recent vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin — encouraged Tea Partiers to run in Republican primaries, defeating incumbents and moderates. While in 2010 the GOP won more elections than they had at any time since before the Great Depression, Tea Party candidates cost them the Senate.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, the Tea Party failed to unite behind any one presidential candidate, but they succeeded in dominating the debate, driving all the candidates to the right and convincing Mitt Romney to select as his running mate a congressman famous only for his plan to shrink Medicare. At that point, the Tea Party takeover was nearly complete, though the movement’s stars (like Palin) only played minor roles in Romney’s campaign.
After President Obama’s re-election, the GOP establishment told itself that it needed outreach, and the Tea Party disagreed.
Guess who won?
The establishment wanted immigration reform and didn’t want a shutdown. Immigration reform is barely alive and the government isn’t open. The organizing prowess of self-proclaimed Tea Partiers has given them control of the party, so much so that the Tea Party’s agenda is now the GOP’s agenda.
With the help of new research from Democracy Corps, here are five reasons why the Tea Party took over the GOP — and one reason why it will eventually tear the Republican Party apart.