Tea Party 3.0
by Josh Eboch
as lingering high unemployment and last summer’s debt downgrade, on so-called “extremism” in Congress fueled by Republican allegiance to the tea party. At the same time, and apparently without irony, pundits on the left and the right dismiss the tea party as irrelevant and fleeting, much as they have since its inception.
“…the tea party’s future will be determined by how closely its members study the lessons of their recent past.” Growing Pains
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the tea party has reached a crossroads. Gone are the heady days of 2009, when hundreds of thousands of activists, many of them political neophytes, made history with the 9/12 March on Washington to vent their frustration over government spending and bailouts. Gone also is the sense of inevitability that built steadily throughout 2010, until a groundswell of anti-establishment anger propelled tea party-aligned candidates to upset victories in local, state and federal elections all across the country. Now the changeable mood of voters has shifted yet again, with positive opinions of Republicans in general and the tea party in particular declining steadily over the course of 2011. The question no longer seems to be whether the tea party will have a substantial impact on American politics, but whether that impact can be sustained and what shape it will take in the future. President Obama, for one, is betting that as the movement’s novelty wears off it will provide a convenient political foil for his floundering presidency. At every opportunity his administration has sought to blame its own failures, such
More than anything else, these swings in public opinion and contradictions in media perception reflect the movement’s own struggle to define itself. As the 2012 election season begins in earnest, the tea party still identifies most comfortably with the ideological purity of its populist roots, but is also seeking to expand its electoral influence and institutionalize its minimalist philosophy of government. However, in large part, the tea party’s future will be determined by how closely its members study the lessons of their recent past. In Indiana, for example, tea party activists suffered an embarrassing loss in the 2010 Senate primary due to their inability to compromise and coalesce behind a single conservative candidate. Rather than allow themselves to be consumed with bitterness and mutual recrimination, Hoosier activists chose to adapt to the changing political climate by getting better organized and better trained in the fundamentals of grassroots