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Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Tea Party’s Origin Story Is A Myth

Members of the Tea Party position themselves as a populist movement opposed to big government and excessive government spending. They claim that they are average citizens uninterested in politics who are simply fed up with the federal government. Not true, according to political scientists David Campbell and Robert Putnam. Campbell and Putnam have been tracking voters’ political attitudes since 2006 — three years before Tea Party protests began in 2009 — and found that most of those now involved in the Tea Party movement were previously very active in the Republican Party.

“Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.”

Though the Tea Party likes to pretend they’re a diverse libertarian movement, their demographics overwhelmingly match those of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party: white, socially conservative, and opposed to the separation of church and state.

“So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”

Michele Bachmann, whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been fueled by the Tea Party, also has a false origin story. A recent profile of her in the New Yorker explains that Bachmann was involved in politics even before she ran for the Minnesota State Senate.

“For many years, Bachmann has said that she showed up at the convention on a whim and nominated herself at the urging of some friends. She was, she suggests, an accidental candidate. This version of history has become central to her political biography and is repeated in most profiles of her. A 2009 column by George F. Will, for example, says that “on the spur of the moment” some Bachmann allies suggested nominating her.

But she already had a long history of political activism—the Carter and Reagan campaigns, her anti-abortion and education activism, her school-board race—and she had been targeting Laidig for a year. According to an article in the Stillwater Gazette, on October 6, 1999, Bachmann was talking about running against Laidig months before she went to the convention. “I tried to present information to Senator Laidig on Profile of Learning, he was not interested,” she said. “And I told him that if he’s not willing to be more responsive to the citizens, that I may have to run for his seat.” She told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that she had decided to run against Laidig a year earlier.”

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