Washington (AFP) – U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) stood before hundreds of conservatives and with a pointed jab proclaimed that the small-government movement which sent him to Washington last year is alive and kicking.
“I’m a little bit confused,” he said, the edges of his mouth rising into a smirk. “I could have sworn I read in The New York Times that the Tea Party was dead.”
And with that, America’s most influential — some would argue disruptive — new political force in decades marked its fifth anniversary, reminding Washington it has bounced back from the political tundra to thrust itself to the fore in time for November’s congressional elections.
The grass roots Tea Party movement, which grew out of a “Taxed Enough Already” campaign that launched on February 27, 2009, swept dozens of fresh-faced lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) into Congress the following year on a platform of lower taxes, free-market principles, limited government, fiscal restraint and adherence to the U.S. Constitution.
They rallied against President Barack Obama’s health care proposal, the seemingly never-ending federal bailouts, and skyrocketing national debt.
The “Tea Party” name comes from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, a famed act of American colonial defiance that served as a protest against taxation.
But the movement has created a rift in the Republican Party. 2012 saw their political stock tumble, when some of their favored candidates botched their House and Senate campaigns.
Last year also proved problematic, when a conservative gambit to force a showdown over federal spending resulted in a crippling 16-day government shutdown and accusations that the ploy scarred the Republican brand.
Trouble continued last month when House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) defied core conservatives by introducing a U.S. debt ceiling increase with no strings attached.
And yet Tea Party-backed lawmakers insist today they remain at the forefront of a conservative grass roots revolution.
“It’s time for our moment,” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a close Cruz ally, told Tea Party followers gathered in a Washington hotel ballroom.