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.
By 2010, the obvious partisan nature of the movement became impossible to ignore as the Tea Party focused entirely on Republican primaries. In April of that year, Rupert Murdoch and former Nixon aide Roger Ailes — the men who run Fox News — recognized they’d crossed the line into direct campaigning. The network publicly pulled Sean Hannity out of a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati, where he was set to broadcast his show.
The channel’s actual “course correction” was more than a year away, but by then even the GOP’s own Pravda realized that actual political organizing was beyond the pale — even for them.
Fox News’ Glenn Beck would go on to organize a massive rally featuring the Republican Party’s last nominee for vice president as the star. More and more the economic focus of the early rallies was replaced by the extreme social agenda of the GOP platform. And when Republicans won the House in 2010, the Tea Party freshmen were the talk of the town.
Quickly these new lawmakers wore out any credibility left in the brand by nearly defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States and focusing on passing bills that deregulated polluters and regulated uteri.
By August of 2012, only 25 percent of Americans supported the Tea Party and 28 percent opposed it.
During the GOP presidential primary, the people still calling themselves Tea Partiers tried to stop Mitt Romney from being nominated. He easily won the nomination.
Now right-wingers still insist on calling their base — the movement’s conservatives — the Tea Party. But if you watched the Republican National Convention, the only words mentioned fewer times than “Bush” or “bin Laden” were “Tea Party.” They were not mentioned once.
Those who want to keep the Tea Party myth going want credit for becoming the most loyal supporters of Mitt Romney.
Transom’s Benjamin Domenech wrote on Tuesday, “The Tea Party movement — once again proving its pragmatism once the general election season rolls around — lined up in the immediate aftermath of the Paul Ryan pick and has proven they can grow up.”
So much about this is funny. The idea that Paul Ryan, who voted for nearly every bill that created the deficit from the wars to TARP, is a Tea Partier shows how the brand has been diluted by becoming synonymous with “Republican.” But the notion that the Tea Party deserves credit for supporting Romney — the first man on Earth ever to sign an individual mandate into law — reveals the one true organizing idea for right-wingers behind the last four years: hating Obama.
Domenech goes on to give credit to Michelle Malkin for not attacking Romney for backing down on his hardline immigration stance.
Malkin is the Tea Party? A columnist and Fox News contributor who speaks and sells her books at AFP events all across the country? This is someone who represents the base of the party? Is the Tea Party any Republican who isn’t on the Wall Street Journal editorial board?
The truth is if Fox News started a Mickey Mouse Club, it would have been the Tea Party. Malkin would be Annette. So relatable to the audience, yet so well paid for her efforts. The idea that Michelle Malkin — an employee of the company doing 24/7 infomercials for the Republican Party — would turn against the GOP nominee for president weeks before the election is ridiculous.
Think about it. Since Fox stopped actively promoting the Tea Party, how often do you hear about it? Only when a maniac like Joe Walsh, who grabbed on to the brand to win his seat, embarrasses himself.
Republicans simply cast the whole ruse aside when it didn’t work for them anymore. And those poor folks running around in the tri-corner hats are reenacting history in more ways than they can ever imagine.
Photo credit: John Beagle