BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
They didn't unseat President Obama, their candidates didn't win as many major election victories as they would have hoped, and their numbers in public opinion polls sunk, but, to inelegantly paraphrase Mark Twain, "The Tea Party ain't dead, no way, no how."
"It was a year of countervailing winds and storms. ...The Tea Party movement rose and fell across the year. Though battered and bruised, the core membership of the Tea Party's national factions continued to expand in 2013, even as public opinion waxed and waned." Those are some introductory lines to "The Status of the Tea Party Movement," a comprehensive overview of Tea Party activities over the past year, prepared by the Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights (IREHR).
According to IREHR's Devin Burghart, "The Tea Party cemented its status as an institutional force driving a significant sector of the far right. Moreover, 2013 made it crystal clear that this movement is not about debt and taxes, or even healthcare. It is filled with racists and racism, xenophobes and bigots, and it has had a deleterious effect on political and social questions. And the portfolio of issues, particularly guns and nativism, expressed a (false) sense of white dispossession."
Tea Party-backed candidates didn't fare as well as they had in 2010. The Tea Party failed to unseat President Barack Obama, and while 80% of Tea Party endorsed candidates in the House of Representatives were victorious, eleven of the thirteen TP-endorsed Senate candidates lost.
In a post-election atmosphere of gloom and doom, Tea Partiers embraced secession, as "hundreds of thousands of people signed secession petitions at whitehouse.gov. [and] fully half of the national Tea Party factions used their websites to entertain the idea of breaking apart the country to suit their political aims."
The passage in the Senate of The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 in the early hours of January 1, was another blow. By February, Karl Rove set about organizing a new fundraising effort independent of Tea Party organizations, and aiming to fund moderate right wing candidates who are not affiliated with the Tea Party.
These defeats allowed the mainstream media to offer up a Tea Party in disarray and near death narrative: "E.J. Dionne, writing in the October 25, 2012 edition of Real Clear Politics, declared, 'tea party thinking is dead.' A January 28, 2013 story on Daily Kos by "ProgressiveLiberal" began and ended with the simple declarative statement, 'The Tea Party movement is dead.'"
According to IREHR, nothing could be further from the truth. "It should be noted that the inability of liberals and progressives to figure out whether the Tea Party movement is alive or dead is the major reason that no non-partisan, non-electoral effort to counter this movement's racism has been funded or mounted."
The first signs of a Tea Party "rebound" came in February, when Tea Party organizations in a number of states organized rallies against President Obama's call for common sense gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown Massacre.
"These Tea Party driven gun rallies succeeded in mobilizing dormant parts of the Tea Party base and attracting some new faces. ... the action faction tired of playing inside Republican Party baseball and wanted to get back in the streets. The effect, however, was double-edged, entailing an effect on the broader legislative debate while also feeding the fantasies of those further out at the edge."
Along with its NRA allies, the Tea Party succeeded in preventing any significant gun control measures from being considered and "they succeeded in re-shaping public opinion on the issue," as public opinion in favor of gun control began to dip.
In March, a gaggle of Tea Party favorites appeared under the bright lights of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). "Tea Party and Tea Party-aligned groups made up a sizable number of the partners, sponsors, and exhibitors at the event," and "Tea Party leaders and Tea Party-supported politicians held sway over the proceedings."
Citing a number of workshops and seminars at CPAC where race was raised, IREHR concluded: "The sheer magnitude of this reoccurring problem with race confirms IREHR's analysis that the Tea Party movement acts to reinforce and legitimize racism in our society. As IREHR has pointed out previously, as this movement has grown, racism among white people directed against black people and other people of color has risen more than five percentage points, according to poll results. The Tea Party movement has to be held to account for this growing problem."
The so-called IRA Scandal greased the skids for the Tea Party, and "re-ignited the anger of Tea Partiers, encouraged their (false) sense of victimhood, and [an] increase [in] their ranks." There were a series of press releases condemning the IRS, several "Rein in the IRS" rallies, and an attempt to link the IRS to both Obama's Affordable Care Act, and immigration issues.
The Tea Party, which claimed they were victims of an Obama Administration-led conspiracy, managed to cower the IRS into awarding non-profit status to more politically-driven Tea Party organizations.
The Tea Party's epic battle against Obamacare, a battle that had been fought since its introduction, became the line in the sand in late summer. Senator Ted Cruz became a household word and the government shutdown eventuated, a shutdown that played havoc with the Tea Party's public image.
Nevertheless, despite experiencing significant ups and downs during the year, there was no sign that Tea Party organizations were cashing in their chips. "The government shutdown debacle cut back public support for the Tea Party movement to the level it had maintained prior to the IRS 'scandal' the previous May. But it did not kill this movement. In Part Two of IREHR's series, they aim to "provide data and hard numbers to back our analysis of this persistent problem."
(Photo: Susan Melkisethian)