Inside the Tea Party Movement
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Tea Partiers and 2012

By Jessica Chasmar (7/12/11)

“On behalf of my children and grandchildren, I will vote for whoever is running against the president.”

Jerry Merckel, a member of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., as well as many other Tea Party supporters, hold this view that future generations are in danger of facing a socialist America. They see an exorbitant rise in the federal debt, expanding entitlement programs, under-regulated illegal immigration and government encroachment on individual liberty as a less-than-ideal environment for their families to endure.

We can speculate that Tea Partiers will vote for virtually any Republican presidential candidate, assuming that the motive of the movement is to deny President Barack Obama a second term. Tea Party supporters who are informed on the election process and two-party politics can understand that to vote for a third-party candidate or even a libertarian running as a Republican, like Ron Paul, would be a waste of a vote in the primaries. A libertarian winning the Republican nomination is very unlikely, but if it happened, it would be a guaranteed second-term for Obama. My interaction with Tea Partiers has led me to believe that the majority will not vote for a Ron Paul candidate because of this reality. This is why there was so much worry from the right over Donald Trump’s speculation about running as an Independent. Splitting the vote would be incredibly damaging for both the Tea Party and the GOP.

Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer told Uma Pemmaraju on Fox News’ America’s News HQ this June, “We want to defeat Barack Obama. We will not support a third-party candidate.”

A Rasmussen poll conducted this June on a national random sample of 1,000 likely voters found that in a three-way congressional contest with a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat picks up 40 percent of the vote. The Republican earns 21 percent, the Tea Party candidate earns 18 percent and 21 percent remain undecided.

But Tea Partier Michael Bobbitt, of Gainesville, Fla., said a Tea Party member won’t run as a Tea Party candidate.

“If they run a candidate as a third-party,” he said, “it could have a crushing effect on the likelihood of electing a more conservative president.” The Tea Party will rather have a positive impact on the conservative vote in the 2012 election.

The existence of the Tea Party requires Republican candidates to be more conservative in order to get their votes, especially when in November, more conservative individuals mobilized for the primaries, cutting out the moderate candidates like Mike Castle and Lisa Murkowski. If this dynamic remains the case for the 2012 election, it is likely that a very conservative candidate will be on the Republican ticket. A 2010 Gallup poll conducted on more than 8,000 U.S. adults found that conservatives outnumber moderates and liberals in the American electorate. Whether a very conservative, particularly polarizing candidate can beat Obama, however, remains to be seen.

“In our local elections,” Merckel said, “I see most [GOP] candidates for office seek the support of the First Coast Tea Party. The GOP will work to entice the Tea Party into their fold. Likewise, the Tea Party will work to change the direction of the GOP to a more conservative path.”

So who is the frontrunner for the Tea Party vote?

“Looking at the current set of candidates, I would nominate Mitt Romney for president,” said Merckel. “He has the executive experience and has demonstrated his capability on difficult financial situations. However, he has the Health Plan issue and has flipped on a number of social issues.”

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has faced tough scrutiny from the right regarding his healthcare plan dubbed “Romneycare,” that was more or less used as a blueprint for the widely opposed “Obamacare.” He is also accused of flip-flopping on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Bobbitt doesn’t believe a winning candidate has yet emerged from the right.

“Mitt Romney is the presumptive front-runner, but the more the public is exposed to his record, the more they will see little differentiation between his positions and those of Obama,” he said. “I would vote for [GOP presidential candidate] Herman Cain. I don’t see any other candidates that seem committed to reducing the size and scope of government in any serious way. With Mr. Cain, at least the Fair Tax has a chance for more exposure.”

FoxNews contributor and comedian Steven Crowder said that if he had to vote for president today, he would vote for virtually any GOP candidate on the ticket.

“I’m not thrilled to say it, but Romney is likely,” he said. “Politically speaking, he has an earlier head-start. Romney just seems like too much of a politician to me. I can vote for him with a clear conscience, but not a happy one.”

We understand Tea Partiers want less government intrusion and to cut spending, but what should the federal government cut? What should it keep?

Bobbitt said the government should keep the programs that help the legitimately least fortunate among American citizens — “those who cannot fend for themselves, not those who simply choose not to.”

He also believes the government should keep programs that are “reinvestment vehicles for economic growth, such as Pell grants to colleges, Small Business Administration loans and FHA and VA loans for qualified homebuyers.”

Crowder believes the primary responsibility of the federal government should be defense and very little else.

“People act as though it’s a hard question, but when you understand the legitimate, original goal of government, it’s really not,” he said. “My analogy is that of a hockey referee. The role of the government is to keep the players (in this case its citizens) safe and make sure that people are playing by the rules.”

Who are These People?

By Jessica Chasmar (6/15/11)

The Tea Party Movement is a “grassroots reaction to an intrusive government taking the country towards socialism,” said Laurie Newsom, the president of the Gainesville Tea Party in Gainesville, Fla. ”All Tea Party groups adhere to the same three basic values: limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.”

Newsom got active in the movement in response to the “failure of the Republican party to protect those three values and the rapidity by which [the United States] is disintegrating.”

In a National Review/McLaughlin Associates poll conducted last February, six percent of 1,000 likely voters said that they “had participated in a Tea Party or similar protest.” Fifty-three percent said they “had not participated in a Tea Party protest, but [they] generally agree with the reasons for those protests.”

But what kinds of people make up the Tea Party? The movement cannot accurately be described as “monochromatic” and “all white,” as Chris Matthews once described it, referring to a Tea Party rally held in D.C. Sept. 12, 2009. In fact, several black Tea Partiers have spoken out against accusations that the Tea Party is all white.

Bob Parks, a Project 21 member from Virginia, said in a press release, “Here’s a news flash for Chris Matthews. I was there. So was my son. Last time I checked, both of us are black — and we weren’t the only black people there. I know other black people who attended the September 12 rally in Washington, including some of the ones who spoke at the podium. I guess the MSNBC camera people missed them.” Project 21 is an initiative of the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives.

A Gallup poll conducted last April found the movement to be “representative of the public at large.” Tea Partiers diverge from the general public in that they are mostly Republican and conservative in their leanings. They also have higher incomes than average voters and are slightly more likely to be male, according to a New York Times/CBS poll conducted last April. However, according to Gallup, when it comes to age, educational background, employment status and race, Tea Party supporters are mostly similar to the public in general.

According to Kate Zernicke and Megan Thee-Brenan of The New York Times, Tea Partier’s responses are like the general public’s in many ways. Most describe the amount they paid in taxes last year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools, and most do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president.

Nearly 9 in 10 Tea Partiers disapprove of the job President Obama is doing overall, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues, such as health care, the economy and the deficit. According to the Times, when voters were asked if Barack Obama’s policies “are moving the country more toward socialism,” 92 percent of Tea Partiers said yes an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

Yet while Tea Partiers are more conservative than Republicans on some social issues, about 8 in 10 say that they are more concerned with economic issues than social issues, as is the general public.

Jerry Merckel, a member of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean of the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction at the University of North Florida. He got involved in the movement because he was concerned about the future for his three children and his eight grandchildren.

“The economy is declining, tax revenues are decreasing, unemployment is now heading toward 10 percent, the deficit is increasing and the U.S. government is printing more money,” he said. “Continuing on this path leads to U.S. bankruptcy. All that you have worked for will be lost. The future for our children is in doubt.”

According to a New York Times/CBS poll conducted last year, while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.” When asked what they are angry about, they offered three main concerns: health care, government spending and a feeling that their voices are not being heard in Washington.

FSU law student and avid Tea Party supporter Jaime Sherman is a self-described voluntaryist. He defines voluntaryism (or anarchism) as seeking to maximize individual liberty through voluntary living. This means removing coercion from human interaction as much as possible.

“The Tea Party, as it was first started, was a frustrated group of Americans who were tired of government growth as pushed by both major parties,” Sherman said. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans were living up to their promises, and the size of government and national debt kept growing. In response, the Tea Party was formed out of anger toward our nation’s leaders and their disrespect of individual liberty and autonomy.”

In recent years, the Republican Party has seen its approval levels sink to new lows. In 2001, 32 percent of registered voters told Gallup they considered themselves Republican. By 2009, that number had dropped by 5 percentage points. The number of voters who identified themselves as Independent showed a corresponding rise.

What is interesting, however, is that over that same time frame, the number of voters self-identified as conservative stayed relatively constant. It’s still too simple to imply a one-for-one swap, but the trend seems clear: The Tea Party Movement arose in an environment in which a growing number of fiscally conservative Americans believed the GOP was not voicing their concerns.

The Birth of a Movement.

By Jessica Chasmar (5/12/11)

There has been some dispute of how or when the Tea Party Movement began and how it was conceptualized. Most of my research seems to support that the mobilization of Tea-Party thinkers started amid the financial meltdown and the support by President George W. Bush for big bank bailouts. Bush defended the bailouts, saying, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.”

But while many fiscal conservatives were angry when Bush supported the bailouts, it’s apparent that the election of a liberal Democrat and the talk of a vast economic stimulus bill was ultimately what forced them into action. 

On Jan. 24, 2009, Trevor Leach, the chairman of the Young Americans for Liberty in New York State, organized a “Tea Party” protest in response to obesity taxes on soda, proposed by New York Gov. David Paterson, indicating a government that had gotten “out of control.” Several of the protesters wore headdresses similar to the 18th-century colonists who participated in the original Boston Tea Party.

In other speculations, New York Times journalist Kate Zernike, The Atlantic’s Chris Good and NPR’s Martin Kaste reported that leaders within the Tea Party credit Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender with organizing the first Tea Party in February 2009, although the term “Tea Party” was not used.

Following the Obama administration’s unveiling of a $75 billion program to help homeowners who couldn’t pay their mortgages, Rick Santelli of CNBC delivered a commentary on Feb. 19, 2009 in which he ranted against federal mortgage refinancing, compared the United States to Cuba and proposed a “Chicago Tea Party” to dump derivative securities into Lake Michigan. The “Santelli rant” became known as the “big bang” moment for the birth of the movement. Santelli grew agitated and yelled, “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening? … It’s time for another Tea Party! What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves!”

He was thinking of having a Tea Party in July, but empowered by the hyper-connectivity of the Web, newly energized conservative activists organized the first Chicago Tea Party, which happened within only days after the Santelli rant. Tea Parties quickly became a national phenomenon. Santelli said that his monologue was completely spontaneous, while some of his critics disagree. Santelli still holds that his idea to name it a “Tea Party” simply rested upon the fact that his youngest daughter had been studying the Boston Tea Party in school.

A few days after the Santelli rant, John O’Hara of the Heartland Institute and J.P. Freire, then of The American Spectator, organized “A New American Tea Party” rally outside the White House on Feb. 27. Six weeks later, around tax day, about 500,000 people took to the streets in protests from San Francisco to Atlanta. The movement swelled as April 15, 2009 “Tax Day” protests were organized, and more than a million people are estimated to have attended them all over the country. Activists also began to campaign against Obama’s health care overhaul and a series of healthcare reform bills, like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Other protests were partially in response to several Federal laws, like the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that was in response to the subprime mortgage crisis.

According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the bailouts of banks by the Bush and Obama administrations triggered the Tea Party’s rise. The interviewer, Dan Weil, added that the movement’s anger centers on two issues, quoting Rasmussen as saying, “They think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.”

Some critics say that this “uprising” is not unique at all and is simply what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. Though this may be true, the undeniable fact is that this movement began due to out-of-control spending in Washington. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Budget Office, since 1965, federal spending per household has grown by nearly 162 percent, from $11,431 in 1965 to $29,401 in 2010. From 2010 to 2021, it is projected to reach $35,773, an additional 22 percent increase (inflation-adjusted).

Tea Party protestors have shown that they are angry and afraid, and the only way they can truly be heard is by gathering in numbers and exercising their First Amendment rights. But until a non-liberal takes over the White House, it’s yet to be seen whether their anger and fear is directly related to President Barack Obama.