The tea party’s second act: Was 2010 a steppingstone or a high-water mark?
The 2010 midterm elections were
marked by ubiquitous images of voters waving Gadsen flags in the sun,
women with tea bags hanging from their hat brims, and determined men in
Paul Revere costumes shouting proclamations.
What happened to those people?
If you ask the people who helped
organize the tea party into a movement, they'll readily concede that tea
party rallies this election cycle are not as prolific as they were in
2010. But they say they're doing one better this year: Instead of simply
rallying, they're organized and on the ground (and on the phone, in
your mailbox and on your radio and television) in select states to try
to elect tea party candidates to office and effect what they say is
"The movement has matured … and
we're now tea party 2.0," Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express,
told Yahoo News. Kremer and other tea party leaders say that while the
tea party rose to fame in 2010, that cycle was just a learning period
for the movement.
"In 2010, we didn't have our feet
under us," Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns
director of FreedomWorks, told Yahoo News. Instead of a "haphazard"
plan, as he described it, 2012 will bring a "much more sophisticated
The tea party in 2010 made
headlines for its rallies, its anger and its energy. But its most
lasting changes came in the form of getting tea party candidates elected
to office, sometimes at the peril of establishment Republicans. The
movement's leaders say they plan to do the same this cycle.
"Some folks think the tea party has gone away because they're not out
seeing 5,000 at a time waving 'Don't Tread on Me' flags," Indiana
Senate challenger and tea party candidate Richard Mourdock told Yahoo News last week. "But where they are, are working as volunteers in campaigns like this campaign."
If Mourdock, the state treasurer, defeats Sen. Dick Lugar on May 5, he will largely have the tea party to thank.
His campaign fits the tea party narrative: The 36-year Senate veteran
Lugar is being portrayed as too moderate for his state, having voted
for the bailouts, for President Obama's stimulus bill, and to confirm
Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Mourdock, who sued
over the auto bailout, casts himself as a limited-government fiscal
Two years ago, tea party supporters in Indiana split between two
candidates in the state's Senate Republican primary. In an example of
how 2010 was a learning period for the movement, an umbrella
organization called Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate was created to
unify the tea party behind a single candidate.
Late last year, the new organization brought together 55 tea party groups across the state to endorse Mourdock.
"We were learning the process in
2010," Monica Boyer, who helped found the group, told Yahoo News of the
tea party in general. "We were angry about what was going on, but we
didn't know what to do about it."
She added, "Now we've gone into a working mode."
People from 47 tea party groups
are expected to travel to Indianapolis on Saturday, according to Boyer,
for an event to get out the vote for Mourdock ahead of Tuesday's vote.
A loss by Lugar would prove the
strength of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate to the state
establishment as well as to the nation.
"It would be a victory for conservatism," Boyer said. "And for the heart and soul of the Republican party."
Their model for tea-party unity is being replicated in states like Michigan, Oregon and Iowa, Boyer said.
The leaders of national tea party
groups, such as Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, both of which
endorsed Mourdock, believe a Lugar loss would immediately "send shock
waves" across the country, to use Steinhauser's words.
Amid the "media narrative: Is the
tea party alive? This will put a temporary end to that discussion,"
Steinhauser said. "The tea party is alive and well."
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