Gingrich rise is a sign tea party is in decline
If history tells us anything, the rise of sometime-historian Newt Gingrich
to Republican presidential frontrunner is a sign that the tea party movement is destroying itself.
After all, the former House speaker has surged to the top of Republican presidential polls on the shoulders of tea party supporters, a movement that ironically came together to topple Washington insiders - like Newt Gingrich.
The tea party movement rose up angrily in early 2009 to expose and clean out what its members saw as the greedy Washington fat cats and wheeler-dealers who line their pockets while raising taxes, expanding government and spending taxpayers’ money.
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One reason for Gingrich’s rise: The tea party and the Grand Old Party have been looking for strong, sure-footed leadership, and no one’s feet are more sure than Newt’s. Gingrich provides leadership the tea party appears to need: someone who can tell a movement what they are for when they only know what they are against.
Year later, tea party’s profile low but focused
A year ago, the tea party was the focus of Washington, praised by Republicans for the punching power it displayed in the 2010 election fight and derided by Democrats as an unhealthy influence on the ascendant GOP.
Now, less than a year before the next elections, the tea party is striving to carve out a role going forward, even as its public support falls, its clout in Congress wanes - the House Tea Party Caucus hasn’t met since June 2 - and its street-level power has been overshadowed by the new, more violent Occupy movement.
Still, there are continued signs of power, albeit tied more closely to Republican Party politics: One tea party affiliate co-hosted a GOP presidential debate in September, and last week another group with deep tea party ties hosted a debt summit on Capitol Hill. The movement also is thought to have helped persuade Republicans on the deficit-reduction supercommittee to reject Democrats’ desire to pair some tax increases with spending cuts aimed at reducing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
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While it arose as an anti-Washington movement, the tea party gained steam when its adherents began to make themselves heard in politics, and particularly in Republican primaries, where they helped topple a series of the party’s preferred candidates in favor of more conservative options.
Tea party, ‘Occupy’ don’t stack up with ’60s protests
Once again, rage in the streets has captured the nation’s attention, as it did during the Vietnam War
and the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s. Now it is the turn of the tea party
and Occupy Wall Street
movements. But the latter two have not achieved the numbers, the intensity or the success of first two.
In both cases, protesters in the streets eventually forced basic changes in government policy, in coordination with like-minded legislators who saw both the antiwar and civil rights protests as expressions of broader public revulsion.
The same has been true to a degree of the tea party protest against the growth and spending of the federal government. Its public clamor for reductions was central to the return of the House of Representatives to Republican control in the 2010 elections. The tea party led to the congressional supercommittee’s effort to slash trillions from the federal deficit — and contributed to its failure.
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Indeed, many political leaders of both parties have given a wide berth to the Occupy movement across the country as it continues to declare, “We are the 99 percent,” in the clearest expression in a long time of what the Republicans like Newt Gingrich so incessantly and derisively call “class warfare.”
Tea party, Occupy movement vastly different
Many in the media and some well-known politicians have characterized those demonstrating against Wall Street and big business as a spontaneous grass-roots movement similar in purpose to the tea party. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s start with the important differences.
The tea party movement is universally consistent in its emphasis on the return to the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and eager for the restoration of constitutional governance. The tea party protests are intended to bring attention to the unrestrained compulsion of our elected representatives toward boundless growth of the government and display a total disregard for any kind of fiscal responsibility. They also criticize those businesses that reject free-market capitalism in favor of persuading government officials to enact laws and regulations that favor their industry and reduce their competition. (These businesses are inappropriately referred to as “crony capitalists” when there is nothing about free-market capitalism they embrace.)
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Tea party rallies are characterized by spontaneous personal initiative, disciplined gatherings, patriotic pronouncements and lawful behavior. The OWS protesters are organized by paid instigators, funded and fed by union and liberal political organizations, unkempt, undisciplined and unlawful hooligans taunting police and disrespectful of local businesses and private property.
Why do news media capitalize ‘Occupy Wall Street’ but not ‘tea party’?
For a two-and-a-half-year-old movement, the tea party has already left a massive imprint on American politics. No Republican contender for the presidency can afford to betray its positions against taxation, against liberalizing immigration policies, against a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Tea party backers in 2010 helped vault a number of Republican candidates into the House of Representatives, which now boasts a thriving Tea Party Caucus. Need more evidence of its mainstream emergence? Just weeks ago, CNN teamed up with Tea Party Express to sponsor a GOP presidential debate.
These milestones notwithstanding, the movement remains a pipsqueak on the copy desks of newspapers in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The challenge is one of elementary-school grammar: The tea party movement can’t get itself a pair of capital letters.
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“The tea party came into our stylebook a couple of years ago,” Minthorn says. “We decided at the time to stick with a lowercase spelling, for a movement or a state-of-mind issue, but it doesn’t seem to be a national organization with one hierarchy with a president of it or a chairman of it.”
Tea party gets a bad rap
In September, Rush Limbaugh charged that President Obama wants to see America in chaos and its citizens rioting in the streets. According to the talk show host, the president hopes to exploit the crisis to create an even bigger government with even tighter controls. It was a boneheaded accusation and wrong of Limbaugh to say it.
Tea party groups share views but don’t work together
Without question, the tea party movement has more passion and energy than any other force in American politics today. But it also has no coherent central organization or plan, raising questions about its potential impact on the 2012 elections.
Tea party loyalists proudly concede that they’re a diffuse, diverse bunch who are bound by a commitment to smaller, less intrusive government. They abhor government authority that’s too big and dictatorial. They even recoil at the notion of any hierarchical structure controlling their own effort.
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There are three prominent national organizations that pledge allegiance to the tea party – Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Patriots – as well as dozens of local groups that may or may not be affiliated with any of them.
A negative attitude toward the tea party
We have to thank Rep. Maxine Waters and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. Their negative attitude toward the tea party made headline news. It brought publicity to the tea party concept. I’m confident the majority of our population has little faith in the credibility of Ms. Waters or Mr. Hoffa. Testimony suggesting the tea parties can “go to hell” is typical of what makes news. The positive aspects derived from the tea party’s activities never make headlines in the mainstream media.
Tea party is not a party. It’s a concept. It is apparent many of our politicians are intimidated with this fast-growing concept. Millions of us are becoming concerned with the direction in which our country is going. The tea party concept consists of like-minded people who are typically concerned with the lack of moral and ethical values, excessive spending, government regulations and the list goes on.
It’s apparent the mainstream media is also ignoring the tea party concept. Many times it labels tea party people as mean-spirited agitators. This is far from the truth. Typically you meet people from all across the U.S.A. and then exchange phone numbers and email addresses.
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The tea party concept is the fastest growing, spirited conservative movement this country has known. It’s estimated there were nearly 2 million people who attended the Washington, D.C., rally Sept. 12, 2009.
What the tea party is — and isn’t
That the tea party sprang to life during Obama’s presidency should have been less surprising than it was. According to Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, “The tea party movement can best be understood in the context of the long-term growth of partisan-ideological polarization within the American electorate and especially the growing conservatism of the activist base in the Republican Party.”
Over the past three decades, the size of the base within the party has grown significantly. At the same time, those activists were becoming more and more conservative in their views — and more and more hostile in their evaluations of the opposing party. When these activists were asked to rate Democratic presidential candidates on a thermometer scale of 1 to 100, the average fell “from a lukewarm 42 degrees in the late 1960s to a very chilly 26 degrees in the 2000s,” Abramowitz said.
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They were also predisposed to oppose his agenda, whether it was his big stimulus package or his health-care proposal. Those measures helped galvanize the group that became known as tea party activists or supporters, but as Jacobson notes, “The tea party movement conferred a label and something of a self-conscious identity to a pre-existing Republican faction that already held strongly conservative views on both economic and social issues.”
Tea party won’t take down Allen West, but Democrats might
Talk of a tea party challenge to Rep. Allen West
(R-Fla.) is overblown. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be in the House come 2013.
The announcement last week that tea party groups were targeting West for supporting the debt ceiling plan proposed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — a plan that could not get enough Republican support to pass the House — was taken as a sign that the movement had started to eat its own. In 2012, West was propelled into office by tea party activists; he’s a fixture on the tea party circuit. If he can’t survive one controversial vote with his reputation intact, no one can.
West has continued to stand behind GOP leadership, saying over the weekend that the compromise deal scheduled for a House vote Monday night was a “good one.” Should he be worried?