Let's get right to the point today: So what ever happened to that whole Tea Party thing? Anyone notice how it just sort of, you know, disappeared?

In 2009 they were highly visible, achieving commendable turnout at a number of rallies thanks in part to promotion on conservative websites, talk radio, and TV. In 2010 they were organized enough to defeat numerous high profile or incumbent Republicans in congressional primaries. Their anti-incumbent and pro-Republican leanings no doubt influenced the outcome of last year's general election as well. As a social movement, if it can be so called accurately, it was stunningly successful, accomplishing almost all of its fundamental goals. They moved Obama and the Republican establishment to the right. They elected a coalition of amateurs, ideologues, and zealots to Congress. They brought the "liberal" Obama agenda of 2009 to an effective halt.

Perhaps that's why we no longer see them holding rallies, or why we hear about them constantly in the media but only as an abstraction or represented by a small number of high profile career activists. Tea Partytm exists as a brand name, but where has the Tea Party itself gone? Protests at the Capitol during the debt ceiling debate turned out embarrassingly small crowds, basically a couple dozen nutbars in tri-cornered hats and ill fitting Halloween costumes.

What happened? Did they decide that they Won last year and return home satisfied? That's hard to believe; the problems they claimed to care about remain or have worsened, and they don't appear happy with the Congress they helped elect. Did they get jaded, realizing that the new Congress isn't producing different outcomes than the old one? Hmm. That would imply that their motivations were issue-based, which I find dubious. Did they simply get tired? Maybe. They were pretty goddamn old.

The Awl has a great piece from a woman who spent two years involved in local Tea Party politics in Wisconsin. While sympathetic, she is also realistic about what she sees.

I concluded that trying to figure out what they wanted was a dead end because what they wanted was simply to complain—that the Tea Party "is not a group of listen and respond; this is a group of respond and respond."

The Tea Party is no longer about economics, not that it ever solely was. At the larger rallies and for the cameras (CNN or laptop), they hold forth about founding fathers, liberty, spending, deficits, TARP, kicking cans down roads, taxes, living within means and fiscal responsibility. But when the lights are off, it's all about Jesus, with "God" thrown in, on occasion for Israel.

In the end though, the biggest enemy of the organized grassroots faction of the Tea Party is that it's a lot of work for a hobby.

In the last year or so, in addition to going to meetings and rallies, I've spent an unhealthy amount of time on the websites, Facebook pages and social networks of Tea Party organizations and those sympathetic to them. While many are still active, many others have not been updated for months and months. Many appear to have fallen off in activity in December, just after the elections. Event calendars are barren. "Latest updates" are months old and unanswered. Those that are active are often just ugly RSS feeds, just a string of links to news items on Breitbart sites or Newsmax.

The most active presences now are the Tea Party leaders who've gone whole hog with the movement and have nothing to lose in doubling down (such as Kim Simac) and the professional Tea Party organizers such as Freedomworks, American Majority, Tea Party Express and 9/12, who are, at the end of the day, simply community organizers for corporate advocacy.

Freedomworks head Dick Armey? Well, that's just the Contract with America all over again. American Majority head Ned Ryun? A speechwriter for George W. Bush, now out on his own.

The claim that the Tea Party was a grassroots movement has been treated with extreme skepticism from the outset, and the facts undermine such claims. Despite being backed by corporate money, interest groups, and consummate Beltway insider leadership, however, the Tea Party did rely on the participation of non-professionals. Those 1,000-100,000 people who showed up to various rallies were not all on Dick Armey's payroll. These are real people. They circulated emails, talked to friends and family, and went where they were told to go. And less than a year later, they lack the energy or enthusiasm to even maintain or update a website.

So where did they all go? The Tea Party has become the Mary Celeste of political movements, a rudderless hulk that continues to scare the shit out of Republicans even though no one appears to be on board. Did the anger dissipate? Did the election of a GOP House satisfy them? Did their minimal interest in politics run out? Was their movement, to the extent that it was a genuine one, co-opted by the Armeys and Reeds of the professional right? I don't have a good answer, but their silence is deafening after two unbroken years of hearing the phrase "Tea Party" every 30 seconds.

39 thoughts on “WITHER ANGER”

  • Isn't this the same sort of thing that we saw in 1993-4? A centrist Democrat got elected and then a whole lot of the right media began yelling that Everything You've Ever Known and Loved is under attack by the commie in the White House. Gingrich won, made an effort to dismantle the welfare state, but in spite of the business leading up to the impeachment, the seething anger of the rank and file didn't really last. You can't manage for too long with the anger turned up to 11, especially when what you're angry about isn't real.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Republicans don't believe in evolution, global warming, science in general and the safety net. That is more or less Europe before Bismark. As any group, the bell curve represent the Republican party and it's right flank, the low right part, consists of reactionaries that happen to be the Teas. Enough money, professional organizers and substantial help from the media created the monster.

    Any artificial political entity is bound to have a short life. Despite the wins in 2010, mainly due to our own right winger Obama, had many instances where Teas demonstrations and protests had about 10-20 people. That's a party at a neighbor, not a political one.

    I believe this is it. The Tea is weak and spent; we saw it in Wisconsin where one could hardly see them. Repeating the contrived trick is very unlikely. Rest without peace.

  • Hmm, I have no idea, but I'm going to guess that it was the Medicare thing with Paul Ryan. I cannot prove this on an etch-a-sketch. I haven't looked at timelines or polling data. But dammit, I have a feeling in my gut, so I'm going with that cause I'm a real 'Murcan,and that's what we do.

  • It makes you wonder how important the Tea Party support will be in the primaries. We still hear how Bachmann "has the Tea Party support" but how much does this even mean anymore?

  • Like enormous ConGlomCo banks masquerading as aw-shucks local banks, we have a national Tea Party (TM) that has nothing, really, to do with the handful of disaffected right wing and rural non-Left Democrats that somehow didn't make it into the big-L Libertarian party. Those little people had their sincere-but-unbrilliant idea repackaged into a gingham "just us folks" context, like Cracker Barrel restaurants. Picture some flinty-eyed John Birchers in Paula Deen wigs and you're nearly there.

  • “So where did they all go?”

    Having gotten most of their way, they’re now finding themselves busy applying for jobs at Wal-Mart.

  • The Florida Tea Party is having a convention this November in Daytona. Word is that Skeletor–uh, Governor Scott–will be there. I'd go if I had the time and the money (and a blog on which to write about the experience).


    Although I think that @Coises is probably right about last year's Tea Party activists being this year's Wal-Mart applicants. So many Tea Party people I was reading about seemed not to realize they were advocating against their own interests, and being consigned to serfdom in a dead-end job at minimum wage would be the natural result of that activism.

  • Kim Simac, referenced in the article, lost last Tuesday in the recall election of a WI state Dem senator. She called public schools some kind of Nazi indoctrination scheme. I think the TPiers simply ran out of references to Nazis that even they could make. I think this proves the astroturfness of the entire operation. Real grassroots movements don't give up, RECALL WALKER.

  • In a word, overreach. Between the Ryan Plan, Walker and Bachmann, the Tea Party went the way of Glenn Beck. It exhausted its 15 minutes in the mainstream. Although the pundits seem slow on the uptake (or still desperately need a news hook for the GOP primaries), a lot of people who liked their ideas at first (fiscal responsibility!) saw the results of electing extremists like Walker, got sick of the full-moon howlers doubling down on apocalyptic rhetoric, and got back to fearing teenagers and Mexicans. And the genuine teabaggers returned to the fringe.

    Pretty much the life-cycle of any "movement," adjusted for the Internet Age.

  • Most of the Tea Party people to me sounded like a lot of so-called "independents" that I've known.

    The ones that say "I'm mad at both parties" (I just happen to always always always vote for the Republican).

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Well, it sure was a lot easier when "Freedom Works" made the 'works' 'free' for the 'dumb.'
    But now that the dummies actually have to work, and spend a bit of money, well…

    Maybe they'll try to revive this 'bowel' movement in time for the 2012 election.

    But I think that when the people in the Medicare/Medicaid Motorized Scooter Brigade realized that the reps they voted in decided, in unison, to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid as we now know it, they realized that their fat old stupid asses may have taken for a ride – and not in a free bus/scooter kind of way.
    They'll still vote the way they vote, but I doubt that we'll need to invest in any more tri-corner hat companies, or be forced to watch coverage of Beck-inspired Nuremberg wannabe rallies, where thousands of dumbasses with racist signs are inflated by Malkin and the rest of the rightie flying monkeys, into millions of patriots shrieking with one voice.

    Look, the Republicans can always keep falling back on what's worked for them for decades – "Divide and Conquor."
    They're hoping that the inner Bircherite in the base's heart will still glow with enough hatred, racism, xenophobie, homophobia, and misogyny, that even without Armey's Army, they'll have a good enough turn-out in 2012, to turn out that Kenyan/Socialist/Communist/Fascist/Atheirst/Heathen/Muslim/Islamasist and his pinko pals.

    Besides, the real question is, wtf ever happened to "The Coffee Party?"

  • c u n d gulag says:

    BTW – buckeyblue,
    Congrat's on regaining 2 seats, and keeping the other two in WI.

    We all appreciate all of your hard work!

  • Kim Simac, referenced in the article, lost last Tuesday in the recall election of a WI state Dem senator. She called public schools some kind of Nazi indoctrination scheme. I think the TPiers simply ran out of references to Nazis that even they could make. I think this proves the astroturfness of the entire operation. Real grassroots movements don't give up, RECALL WALKER.

    Yeah, except those recalls still had at least 40% voting to recall the democrats. Even if the Tea Party has gone quiet, they're still voting.

  • You don't hear much from the Historical Event Plundering Party (I refuse to dignify this selfish movement with the name of the historical one that actually sacrificed something in the name of resistance against ACTUAL tyranny and oppression) because they have not recently been commanded to be outraged about something by their Republican overlords. The lapdog sits quietly on its leash until needed.

  • Modern Americans seem to believe that political activism begins and ends with elections. The equivalent of the Tea Party dispersal is the vanishing act of Obama's Yes We Can nation. Consider: if the people who organized and agitated to get him elected had continued to make their numbers and presence and voices heard/felt *after* his inauguration, would the slide into moderate conservatism have gone so far, so quickly? Frederick Douglass declared, when slavery was abolished, that the work wasn't over; on the contrary, it had only just begun. That spirit of commitment *after* a victory just isn't there anymore.

    So, the Obama supporters get their man in office, and then collectively say, "Well, our work here is done; I'm sure he can handle absolutely any political challenges from here without is." Doesn't really work that way. Office holders of both parties inevitably feel pressure to compromise in order to feel like they're accomplishing something. Once they're in, their supporters have to keep up the pressure/support to keep them honest. But that takes time–we seem to like a nice, clear goal line, and after that, it's Miller time.

    Ditto for the Tea Partiers. The health care debate awoke the beast, but after the midterms, they seem to have concluded that they can now hand their responsibilities over to their elected officials (most of them inexperienced and largely unqualified, and thus incredibly susceptible to offers of back-scratching compromise) and go home for a victory lap.

    In short, the quoted article is right: for most of these people, politics is a hobby. And not even the good kind of life-consuming, "gotta collect 'em all in mint condition" hobby. Just something to do between seasons of "American Idol." We are easily bored and easily distracted. This does not make for an effectively activist electorate.

  • @Dryden:
    Co-sign x1000. I think a lot of people supported Obama because they thought their worries would end when W was gone. Turned out he was a symptom.

  • Monkey Business says:

    The fires that burn brightest and hottest also burn out the fastest.

    The Tea Party is fueled by anger and fear. It started as fear: white, Middle class Americans who have always had jobs and easy credit suddenly had neither. Their 401k plans which were supposed to carry them into retirement were worthless. They had to deal with the fiscal reality that their lot in life is worse today than it was ten years ago. For the first time in their lives, these people were scared. That fear turned into anger. Someone had to pay. The GOP harnessed that anger and turned it into a weapon, using it against moderate Democrats to retake the House and break the Senate Supermajority.

    Their are problems with using anger as a weapon. One is that it's inherently uncontrollable. You can direct it, but it can lash out in ways you don't anticipate as well. Remember: the GOP should have won both houses of Congress, but candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell cost them that. Harry Reid was ripe to be defeated, and a moderate Republican would have done it. Instead, Sharron Angle and the Tea Party let the Senate Majority Leader off the hook.

    The other is that anger needs fuel. To be angry, you need something to be angry at. What exactly is left for the Tea Party to be angry at? Healthcare passed. The debt ceiling was raised. The government wasn't shut down.

    The Tea Party succeeded in electing a group of people to Congress that are woefully unqualified and will influence national politics with their intractability and ignorance for years to come. They will be like a kidney stone, irritating and painful, until it finally passes.

    But, 2012 will almost assuredly see many of the gains the Tea Party made erased. If the GOP nominates a Presidential candidate particularly odious to the general public, we could see a counter-wave election and watch the Democrats regain control of Congress. Or, we could see the House and Senate flip. If the GOP nominates someone moderate that doesn't have Tea Party stink on them, maybe they give Obama a run for his money.

    Ultimately though, the Tea Party is only a force in Republican politics. Not all Republicans are Tea Partiers, but all Tea Partiers are Republican.

  • I am sticking w/ the mantra y'all have heard before

    The GOP establishment will continue to dissappoint (well nigh piss off) the T-party faction. Like the man said, they may not rally much anymore, but they vote.

    The establishment will nominate an unacceptable Presidential candidate to the TP Republicans.

    A Bachmann or a Paul will lead the TPs on a third party suicide purity mission.

    BHO will reprise 1992 (Clinton received 43% of the popular vote) and receive 40 – 45% of the popular vote while the GOP candidate will receive about 40% and the devil TP will take the hindmost.

    "Happy Days are Here Again" will be the song of the hour in Nov 2012.


  • You are so wrong. I'm sure there are three old, angry white people somewhere holding signs that are worthy of national coverage, while 100,000 people surrounding the capitol in Wisconsin for workers rights were obviously all bused in from New Mexixo and are union thugs. Clearly, the tea party is legitimate–I saw at least 12 people on CNN who said so. Oh, and somewhere in America right now… Newt Gingrich is talking about drug-smuggling mexican robots crawling through a secret Obama tunnel.

  • I think the fizzle of the buzz surrounding the tea party proves the original claims of the left: that the tea party 'movement' was only the Republican Party trying to re-brand itself after an abysmal showing with McCain v. Obama. They got slaughtered, were desperate to change thier image, and all they could muster was a superficial change-in-name-only.

    At this point the media should be only mentioning the Tea Party as a sub-set of the Republican Party. They really are just part of the whole.

  • BB's scenario isn't inevitable, but certainly is plausible. The fracturing of the Republican Party is just an accident waiting to happen at this point.

  • Halloween Jack says:

    Who knows? Maybe they got a clue.

    Maybe they supported extending tax cuts for the rich, under the pretext that they're "job creators", and watched the rich spend that money, not on creating jobs (or, more to the point, restoring the jobs that they cut a few years ago), and instead took the profits and bought luxury goods and sought arrangements. Maybe they watched as their elected Tea Partiers who ran against pork couldn't get to the feeding trough fast enough once they had a chance. Maybe they realized that their government health care would get cut. Maybe they realized that Scary Black Man was willing to support positions nearly indistinguishable from the people that they voted for.

    Or maybe they just ran out of money.

  • The few dozen active tea partiers around Albany, NY, no longer do big rallies, since they would not be that big anymore.

    But they are very active in Republican politics — running for, or working on campaigns for, local offices this year, volunteering for Ron Paul's campaign, turning out to counter MoveOn rallies outside Rep. Chris Gibson's (NY-20) offices, calling local talk radio to pimp the GOP outrage du jour, blogging and commenting at local sites, etc.

    Most of them were not so active before Fox "News" summoned the "tea party" to "take back our country," but they were all conservatives Republicans of one kind or another — Paul/Bircher, Religious Right, Second Amendment, small government/low taxes, mostly — prior to Obama's election.

  • @ BillCinSD – Thank you for the links and the correction; while I based my criticism on the conduct of people I know (mostly students at the large state university where I teach), it's well worth considering that there is an equal, or perhaps greater failure of leadership to utilize its base to do more than win elections.

    Which I have to assume is even more the case with the Tea Partiers, given where their initial support/funding/organization came from, and why they shouldn't be at all surprise that, having lost their use for the activists, they've folded up the tents and left these people (who've just screwed themselves, since they actually *need* the kind of government largesse they've rallied against) in the dust.

  • What happened to the Tea Party?

    The bribe money from the Koch brothers ran out after the Tea Party achieved its intended purpose of transferring yet more public money to billionaires and reducing current public expenditures to the bottom 99% of the U.S. population.

    This has been another edition of "simple answers to simple questions."

  • Well, the top-down part of the right-wing political system got what it wanted: control of the House and damn near the Senate, too. They didn't get the Senate because the highest profile Tea Party candidates repelled votes: Sharon how-many-chickens-for-angioplasty Angle and Christine not-a-witch O'Donnell. They've also realized the highest profile Tea Party presidential candidates are also chock full of voter repellent, so…no more free money or organizing for the Tea Party from the GOP. Tea party faithful will be doing it grassroots-style from now on, and that's hard work.

  • I think what actually happened is that the billionaire's sponsoring the tea party "activism" got what they wanted politically, and then that was the end of the sponsorship.

    When the billionaires want something else, they'll rev up the funding again

  • If the people who organized and agitated to get him elected had continued to make their numbers and presence and voices heard/felt *after* his inauguration, would the slide into moderate conservatism have gone so far, so quickly?


  • I think it's a symptom of a lot of the problems facing right-wing memes, namely that pure mendacity melts faster than ice, at least sometimes. I was just remarking to some friends that the birthright citizenship episode of sometime last year, which at the time was supposed to be over nothing short of an existential threat to our national security, has faded entirely, and that I fully expected some Tea Party politician who'd been last seen railing about terror babies to show up next scorching unelected judges like those who wrote Dred Scott v. Sandford (i.e., dog-whistle for Roe) while of course remaining completely indifferent to the irony.

    Also, sorry to be that guy, but although their anger has withered, for sure, I suspect you're really asking the question "whither anger?" And I suppose the answer is "oh, hither and thither."

  • I think the argument that the corporate funding dried up and left the "grassroots" high and dry is a pretty strong one, but I'll add that having never had to really do any organizing themselves without professional organizers to do all the work, they don't even know where to even begin. It was like an instant movement (just add people!). All the rank and file had to do is stay tuned to Fox News for the time & date of a local event, hop on the big fancy bus that pulled up to their neighborhood, and roll with it.

    Now there's no one to get the noise permit, rent the PA system, organize rides, notify everyone of the details, make their protest signs, etc., and they have no idea how to do any of this themselves. Organizing demonstrations is actually a lot of work and they were spoiled from the get-go; now they're just like "fuck it I'll bitch on internet forums and consider the job done".

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