The movement surfaced when congressional members went home and held town hall meetings in the summer of 2009. Those usually earnest and polite affairs bristled with a new furor aimed at the Affordable Care Act, federal deficits, any type of tax and virtually all Democrats.
That was the start of the tea party. Three years later, it appears to be coming to an end.
As The New York Times reported this week, the tea party surge has been blunted by defeats on the major issues that animated it, starting with the law that brought it to life, the dreaded “Obamacare.” The health care law has been upheld by the Supreme Court and is gaining wide support as Americans come to appreciate its benefits and its savings.
Meanwhile, this year’s election largely rejected tea party-backed candidates. Congressional Republicans, sensing the shift, are breaking ranks on Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes vow. They’re giving in to avoid going over the fiscal cliff created by the intransigence of representatives who arrived on the tea party tide. Even the call for tighter controls on guns after the Newtown, Conn., shootings undercuts the tea party’s rigid, don’t-tread-on-me (or my guns) opposition to federal regulation.
The main driving force in the movement has been a hatred of President Obama, a virulent hatred indeed. Now that the president has been resoundingly given another four years, the tea party’s leaders need new objects of scorn.
And there’s the rub. Movements built on antagonism toward one individual tend to be short-lived, and when that individual triumphs despite loud opponents, it’s frustrating for the losers.
But if the party’s over, the hangover remains. No place may have a bigger headache than North Carolina. The tea party’s push helped Republicans win control of the General Assembly, led to a contorted redistricting that locked in that control and left the state’s leadership in the thrall of radical ideas about taxation, public education, women’s and gay rights, environmental regulation and the role of government itself.
While the tea party has lost steam nationally, its adherents remain active in North Carolina. Mark Hager, state coordinator for the 86 local groups associated with the Tea Party Patriots, said three new groups have joined since the election. He said Obama’s re-election was “somewhat distressing,” but he said Republican victories in North Carolina have made the state “a pretty good model” of the tea party’s approach to government.
“Since 2010, we’ve moved from confrontation in the street to becoming part of the system,” Hager said. And the tea party will make sure Republicans who run the system stay in tune with tea party orthodoxy, said Hager, 47, of Statesville.
“Even though we have helped them to win, we will continue to watch,” he said, “We will vote out those who say they are Republican, but act another way. They are as much a problem for us as full liberals.”
Happy New Year just like the old year. In with the adamant, out with the moderate. Let’s hope there are some North Carolina Republicans who see what’s happening elsewhere and are willing to sing to the tri-cornered hat crowd, “turn out the lights. The party’s over.”