The Tea party has focused public anger at Obama's reforms and forced the political establishment to take note in the run-up to the midterm elections. But is it any more than a knee-jerk response to a Democrat president?by James Crabtree / October 30, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Very conventional: in Michigan, a Tea Party alliance member votes for a candidate to run in the midterm elections on 2nd November
Click here to find out what America would look like if it was run by the Tea party
On 12th September 2009, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for a “taxpayer march” in Washington, DC. Many of them brandished signs: “Socialism is not the answer,” one read, using the style of Barack Obama’s campaign livery. Others painted Obama as the Joker from the Batman movies. Still more quoted the founding fathers, or the US constitution. Handmade, multicoloured, sometimes poorly spelled; all the signs raged at the collapse of America. Welcome to the Tea party.
In the year since, this rabble of libertarians has joined forces with America’s conservative media to build a powerful movement, which has deepened the sense that Obama is an unpopular, failing president. The Tea party claims no formal party allegiance, but it is having an enormous effect on the Republicans. American conservatives saw their onward march checked in 2008, when Obama’s election seemed to herald a liberal moment. But as this prospect has faded, Republican leaders have struggled to respond to the fiscal crisis and rising economic insecurity. The Tea party stepped into the gap.
The movement now exerts a gravitational pull on Republican leaders, who are eager to tap the energy and money flowing from its ranks in advance of the midterm elections on 2nd November. Commentators are even entertaining the notion that the Tea party might propel a hardliner, possibly 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, to the next Republican presidential nomination. So how has this seemingly amateurish, incoherent cause elbowed aside the traditional religious, cultural and business Republican elites in only two years to become the most talked-about force in US politics?
Earlier this year I attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC. Held in a grand hotel, CPAC is a must-attend for several thousand sober-suited right-wingers. Stars-and-stripes flags deck the walls, while a golden bust of Ronald Reagan sits near the entrance; there were even two life-size cardboard cutouts of Reagan for those who wanted their photos taken with him.