Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Saturday, November 17, 2018

One big reason the Tea Party movement hasn’t been a factor in the 2012 election is that, well… it doesn’t exist.

Sure, evangelicals, anti-tax crusaders and Obama-haters may call themselves Tea Partiers. But there’s a better term to describe these groups: the Fox News Fan Club.

When the history of the remarkable Republican landslide of 2010 — winning 63 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate, 680 seats in state legislatures and 10 governorships — is written, right-wingers will falsely insist that this was a victory for the Tea Party.

They’ll spread the myth that the Tea Party was a nonpartisan movement that sprung up to oppose high taxes (though taxes were at a 50-year low and the new president had just cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans). They’ll say people who believed in personal responsibility banded together in local, decentralized groups to oppose radical intervention in the private sector by the government (all begun by a Republican president). They’ll say Americans who were sickened by debt and government spending finally just had to speak out (though they’d been silent as the surplus was blown and the deficit exploded under the previous administration).

What they’ll ignore is how a small group of some of the richest men in America used willing shills to shift the blame for the Great Recession and the debt onto the man who’d just inherited the crisis. The so-called Tea Party movement was simply a façade for the unprecedented way conservative media and dark-money groups rebranded and ignited the Republican base.

During the 2012 election, Fox News appears to be as disreputable as ever. They’ve created scandals as excuses to raise funds for Mitt Romney. They continually spread misinformation and spend endless hours creating an alternate universe where Romney is winning. But none of this compares to what Fox was up to in 2009-2010.

As documented in the book The Fox Effect, the most popular cable news network in America spent over a year engaged in actual political organizing. They advertised rallies in advance, invited candidates on for the express purpose of making fundraising pitches and allowed their hosts to raise funds for Tea Party groups. They did this all while fomenting the myth that the movement was non-partisan and spontaneous (along with hyping scandals that targeted Democratic personalities and institutions, then bullying the mainstream media into covering them).

Of course, the first incarnation of the “Tea Party” was an actual grassroots effort in support of Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign for president. In 2009, the name was co-opted by Fox News and dark-money nonprofits like FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity. These groups — both founded by money from David Koch — took the Tea Party brand and used it to harness the anger millions of Republicans felt as the economic crisis peaked. And with Fox and AM radio encouraging their audience to “take the country back,” millions of Americans did become politically active under the banner of the Tea Party, shrewdly organized by the anonymous millions pumped into groups like FreedomWorks and AFP.