Today I have the difficult task of writing the obituary for the tea party movement. Where do I begin?
Well, the tea party movement was an interesting adventure in American politics. Chapters grew up seemingly organically around the nation; there was no central organization or leadership. In the early days, they opposed the big government policies and politicians in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, treating both with suspicion.
For the last several years, the tea party movement has been in decline. Although supposedly non-partisan, almost all have slipped quietly (or not-so-quietly) into the fold of the Republican Party.
As one example, let’s consider the Hampton Roads Tea Party in Virginia. On their Facebook page, they proudly declare that they are “A fiercely non-partisan group dedicated to the U.S. (and VA) Constitutions, free markets, community-based solutions, and creating a truth-fed fire for Liberty in future generations. Actus non Verbum (Actions not Words)!”
However, during the 2014 election cycle they posted numerous pieces urging their supporters to get behind Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, providing links to volunteer, and offered a Republican sample ballot created by a group called Friends of the Elephant.
Today, the Hampton Roads Tea Party took yet another step by encouraging members of their group to officially join the Republican Party of Virginia. Because of these developments, one would be hard-pressed to call the group “non-partisan” any longer.
Now, this situation isn’t unique to Hampton Roads. For example, in 2013, shortly before the Virginia Republican State Convention, the leader of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party announced that the group would support whichever candidates won that convention regardless of their political positions. The next year, during the 2014 July 4th parade, one member created posters saying that everyone should vote Republican. As I was helping them assemble the float, am a long-time member of the group, and was an independent candidate seeking local office, I was able to persuade them not to offer the citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham a message more or less shilling for a political party.
However, I suppose if we are going to look at the issue objectively, many tea parties these days are shells of their former selves, serving as little more than wings of their respective Republican units. What a pity! After all, wasn’t the original objective of the tea party to oppose the excesses of both the Democratic and Republican Parties? Wasn’t the main purpose to adhere to constitutional limitations and fight against tax increases?
I remember back when I first started getting involved with our local tea party I noticed that the local Republican Party always sent a representative to every meeting, not sent to talk, but to observe what was going on. But for the last several years they have not done so. Why not? Well, because there is no need; the tea party has become one of their closest allies. As another example, the current leader of the Staunton Tea Party is married to the current leader of the Augusta County Republican Party. The Republicans and tea party members have become pretty much indistinguishable. And if the tea party’s mission now is strictly wed to the Republican Party mission, it has made itself both redundant and useless. The tea party did not take over the Republican Party, the Republican Party took over the tea party.
Although there are likely tea parties that still adhere to the original mission, by in large I think it safe to say that the tea party movement has failed. It had a good run, but the tea party is dead.