In 20 years, when a trick-or-treater in a Ted Nugent t-shirt knocks on your door wearing a sidearm and waving a scrawled, misspelled sign, you’ll know exactly who he’s supposed to be and you’ll smile. But you’ll probably also remember that for a brief time, it seemed as if this pseudo know-nothing movement would take over American politics and elect a Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck ticket to the White House.
Luckily the movement quickly became a parody of itself. By saying taxes were too high when they were actually at a 60-year low, by claiming to be just about the economy and then pushing a far-right, anti-gay, anti-women agenda, by defeating a Congress that reformed Medicare in order to elect a Congress that wanted to gut Medicare, the Tea Party quickly lost its bipartisan pose and became a national joke.
Though the Tea Party’s primary successes have been provoking the first credit downgrade in U.S. history and making sure Democrats kept the Senate, several dozen Tea Partiers are still in Congress. And the movement has proven its ability to win primary elections, particularly in safe Republican seats. Some form of the Tea Party as code for the far right will persist for decades, but Grover Norquist’s dream of a second coming that’s comparable to the first wave in 2009 is a complete fantasy.
Here are 5 reasons the Tea Party is basically over.
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The Tea Party Brand Is Incredibly Unpopular
Only 8 percent of America identifies with the Tea Party movement, according the conservative pollster Rasmussen. That’s down from 24 percent after the Affordable Care Act passed. Only 30 percent have a favorable opinion of the movement; 49 percent have an unfavorable opinion. It’s tough to find a group that’s as unpopular as Congress, but the Tea Party is close. Of course, 8 percent out of hundreds of millions of Americans is still a huge number of people. When the far right gets behind a business like Chick Fil A, it can score recordbreaking profits. But it does so by alienating exactly half the population. The Tea Party’s niche popularity makes it much more of a threat to the GOP than Democrats, as Republicans learned in Senate races in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado and Indiana.
Photo credit: Sarah Palin’s Facebook
They’ve Been Outed
FreedomWorks was synonymous with the Tea Party movement. And the the past few weeks, Freedomworks has become synonymous with a billionaire-funded, gun-slinging, astroturfing fundraising machine that pays Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to say nice things about it. The former leader of the group and former Minority Leader of the Republicans in the House, Dick Armey even went to Media Matters, a hated enemy of the far right, to spill the beans.
Now we know for sure what most keen observers always assumed, the Tea Party didn’t spring up spontaneously — it was planned and nurtured by Republican-funded groups like FreedomWorks and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Yes, the Tea Party is just part of the conservative movement’s elaborate money-making scheme.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File
Fox News Isn’t Playing Along Anymore
The most radical thing that was going on in 2009 was the sudden use of Fox News as a incredibly potent political organizing tool. For a decade, the network had been successfully framing the issues for the right’s benefit. Suddenly after the worst electoral drubbing in more than 20 years, the GOP decided it needed to use all its assets in a coordinated fashion. Fox literally advertised Tea Party events in advance to promote organization as its hosts fundraised for the movement. And the whole time they furthered the myth that the movement wasn’t partisan or concerned with social issues. In early 2010, when Rupert Murdoch was forced to answer for his channel’s activities, the network began a “course correction” that still allows them to spend months trying to hype controversies that harm President Obama. But they’re out of the business of literally organizing the Republican Party.
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Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget marked the first time Republicans sought to define what their agenda was beyond opposing President Obama. What it revealed was that they wanted to privatize Social Security and Medicare in order to spend more on the military and lower taxes, especially for the rich. Suddenly the idea that attracted so many into the Tea Party way of thinking — “Keep your goddamn gubmint hands off my Medicare!” — saw what the GOP was really after. Seniors still opposed Obamacare for fear that it would harm Medicare, but they saw that the right was only interested in keeping the name Medicare while erasing the guarantee seniors had relied on for generations. Many suggest that President Obama purposely called out Ryan to raise awareness of his ideas, which are extremely unpopular. Either way, the increasing prominence of Ryan didn’t help the Tea Party movement or the Romney campaign, which largely hid its vice-presidential nominee for the last weeks of the campaign.
Hopefully America will not ever experience anything like the twice-in-a-century downturn that began in the fall of 2008. Within months, millions and millions of Americans lost their jobs and then their homes. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, Herbert Hoover had years of trying to deal with the catastrophic effects before Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933. The public knew who had been in charge when the disaster hit and exactly what FDR inherited. President Obama came into office just as the worst of the Great Recession hit. Though layoffs were cut nearly in half when the stimulus began to take effect in the summer of 2009, the country was still in shock as droves of able-bodied adults sat home anguishing. The unemployment rate went up in November of 2010, as America was voting. Though no one had completely forgotten George W. Bush, the vitriol projected on President Obama had effectively smeared the blame for the economy he inherited onto the new president.
The anger of the original Tea Party movement was fed by real despair. The right exploited is circumstances masterfully, but to expect this confluence of events to occur again is simply the kind of wishful thinking that keeps Republicans going when the facts are against them.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya