May 2011

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Tea Party

The Tea Party movement (TPM) is an American populist political movement which is generally recognized as conservative and libertarian, and has sponsored protests and supported political candidates since 2009. It endorses reduced government spending, opposition to taxation in varying degrees, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit, and adherence to an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.

The name “Tea Party” is a reference to the Boston Tea Party, a protest by colonists who objected to a British tax on tea in 1773 and demonstrated by dumping British tea taken from docked ships into the harbor. Some commentators have referred to the Tea in “Tea Party” as the bacronym “Taxed Enough Already”. The Tea Party movement has caucuses in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States. The Tea Party movement has no central leadership but is composed of a loose affiliation of national and local groups that determine their own platforms and agendas. The Tea Party movement has been cited as an example of grassroots political activity, although it has also been cited as an example of astroturfing. The Tea Party’s most noted national figures include Republican politicians such as Sarah Palin, Dick Armey, and Ron Paul, the latter referred to as the “intellectual grandfather” of the movement. As of 2011, the Tea Party movement is not a national political party, but has endorsed Republican candidates. Polls show that most Tea Partiers consider themselves to be Republicans. Commentators, including Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport, have suggested that the movement is not a new political group but simply a rebranding of traditional Republican candidates and policies. An October 2010 Washington Post canvass of local Tea Party organizers found 87% saying “dissatisfaction with mainstream Republican Party leaders” was “an important factor in the support the group has received so far”.

Background and History

The theme of the Boston Tea Party, an iconic event in American history, has long been used by anti-tax protesters. It was part of Tax Day protests held throughout the 1990s and earlier. More recently, the anniversary of the original Boston Tea Party was commemorated by Republican Congressman Ron Paul supporters who held a fund raising event for the 2008 presidential primaries advocating an end to fiat money and the Federal Reserve System, disengaging from foreign entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and upholding States’ rights. Fox News commentator Juan Williams says that the TPM emerged largely as a result of Paul’s 2008 primary campaign, although on-air comments delivered on CNBC by Rick Santelli are credited with inspiring a number of Tea Party-themed websites and events. Early local protest events – On January 24, 2009, Trevor Leach, chairman of the Young Americans for Liberty in New York State organized a “Tea Party” protest in response to “obesity taxes” proposed by New York Governor David Paterson, and out-of-control spending. Several of the protesters wore Native American headdresses similar to the band of 18th century colonists who dumped tea in Boston Harbor to express outrage about British taxes. Some of the protests were partially in response to several Federal laws: the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and a series of healthcare reform bills. New York Times journalist Kate Zernike 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. Other articles, written by Chris Good of The Atlantic and NPR’s Martin Kaste, credit Carender as “one of the first” Tea Party organizers and state that she “organized some of the earliest Tea Party-style protests”. Carender first organized what she called a “Porkulus Protest” in Seattle on Presidents Day, February 16, the day before President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. Carender said she did it without support from outside groups or city officials. “I just got fed up and planned it.” Carender said 120 people participated. “Which is amazing for the bluest of blue cities I live in, and on only four days notice! This was due to me spending the entire four days calling and emailing every person, think tank, policy center, university professors (that were sympathetic), etc. in town, and not stopping until the day came.” Carender also contacted conservative author and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, and asked her to publicize the rally on her blog. Carender then held a second protest on February 27, 2009, reporting “We more than doubled our attendance at this one.” According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the bailouts of banks by the Bush and Obama administrations triggered the Tea Party’s rise. The interviewer adds 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.”

First national protests – On February 19, 2009, in a broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNBC Business News editor Rick Santelli criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages, which had just been announced the day before. He said that those plans were “promoting bad behavior” by “subsidizing losers’ mortgages”. He suggested holding a tea party for traders to gather and dump the derivatives in the Chicago River on July 1. A number of the floor traders around him cheered on his proposal, to the amusement of the hosts in the studio. Santelli’s “rant” became a viral video after being featured on the Drudge Report. In response to Santelli, websites such as (registered in August 2008 by Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson) were live within 12 hours. About 10 hours after Santelli’s remarks, was bought to coordinate Tea Parties scheduled for Independence Day and, as of March 4, was reported to be receiving 11,000 visitors a day. According to The New Yorker writer Ben McGrath and New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, this is where the movement was first inspired to coalesce under the collective banner of “Tea Party”. By the next day, guests on Fox News had already begun to mention this new “Tea Party”. As reported by The Huffington Post, a Facebook page was developed on February 20 calling for Tea Party protests across the country. Soon, the “Nationwide Chicago Tea Party” protest was coordinated across over 40 different cities for February 27, 2009, thus establishing the first national modern Tea Party protest. The movement has been supported nationally by at least 12 prominent individuals and their associated organizations. Symbols – Beginning in 2009, the Gadsden flag has become a favorite among the Tea Party movement nationwide, serving as an alternative to the stars and stripes for Tea Party protesters who feel patriotism for their country and are upset at the government. It was also seen being displayed by members of Congress at Tea Party rallies. Some lawmakers have dubbed it a political symbol due to the Tea Party connection, and the political nature of Tea Party supporters. The Second Revolution flag gained national attention on January 19, 2010. It is a version of the Betsy Ross American flag, with a Roman Numeral II in the center of the circle of 13 stars, symbolizing the second Revolution in America. The Second Revolution flag has been called synonymous with Tea Party causes and events. Composition – Membership and demographics – Several polls have been conducted on the demographics of the movement. Though the various polls sometimes turn up slightly different results, they tend to show that Tea Party supporters are mainly white and slightly more likely to be male, married, older than 45, more conservative than the general population, and likely to be more wealthy and have more education. One Gallup poll found that other than gender, income and politics, self-described Tea Party members were demographically similar to the population as a whole. When surveying supporters or participants of the Tea Party movement, polls have shown that they are to a very great extent more likely to be registered Republican, have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party and an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party. The Bloomberg National Poll of adults 18 and over showed that 40% of Tea Party supporters are 55 or older, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; 79% are white, 61% are men and 44% identify as “born-again” Christians, compared with 75%, 48.5%, and 34% for the general population, respectively. Canvass and polls – Washington Post national Tea Party canvass – An October 2010 Washington Post canvass of local Tea Party organizers found 11% saying “concern over Obama’s race, religion or ethnic background” was “an important factor in the support the group has received so far”. By comparison, 99% said “concern about the economy” was an “important factor”. National and state polls – Polls have also examined Tea Party supporters’ views on race and racial politics. The University of Washington poll of registered voters in Washington State found that 74% of Tea Party supporters agreed with the statement ” while equal opportunity for blacks and minorities to succeed is important, it’s not really the government’s job to guarantee it”, while a CBS/New York Times poll found that 25% think that the administration favors blacks over whites, compared with just 11% of the general public, and that they are more likely to believe Obama was born outside the United States. A seven state study conducted from the University of Washington found that Tea Party movement supporters within those states were “more likely to be racially resentful” than the population as a whole, even when controlling for partisanship and ideology. Of white poll respondents who strongly approve of the Tea Party, only 35% believe that blacks are hard-working, compared to 55% of those strongly opposed to the Tea Party, and 40% of all respondents. However, analysis done by ABC News’ Polling Unit found that views on race “are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement” because they are typical of whites who are very conservative.


Views of Supporters

Various polls have also probed Tea Party supporters for their views on a variety of political and controversial issues. A University of Washington poll of 1,695 registered voters in the State of Washington reported that 73% of Tea Party supporters disapprove of Obama’s policy of engaging with Muslim countries, 88% approve of the controversial immigration law recently enacted in Arizona, 82% do not believe that gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to marry, and that about 52% believed that “lesbians and gays have too much political power”. More than half (52%) of Tea Party supporters told pollsters for CBS/New York Times that they think their own “income taxes this year are fair”. Additionally, a Bloomberg News poll found that Tea Partiers are not against increased government action in all cases. “The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who created the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.” The 2010 midterm elections demonstrated considerable skepticism within the Tea Party movement with respect to the dangers and the reality of global warming. A New York Times/CBS News Poll during the election revealed that only a small percentage of Tea Party supporters considered global warming a serious problem, much less than the portion of the general public that does. Opposition is particularly strong to Cap and Trade with Tea Party supporters vilifying Democratic office holders who supported efforts to mitigate climate change by emissions trading which would encourage use of fuels which emitted less carbon dioxide. An example is the movement’s support of California Proposition 23, which would suspend AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The proposition failed to pass, with less than 40% voting in favor. Many of the movement’s members also hold conservative views on social issues such as illegal immigration. However, political analyst Dick Morris has argued that in a “fundamental change” evangelical or social issues do not dominate the Republican activists in 2010, because “economic and fiscal issues prevail. The Tea Party has made the Republican Party safe for libertarians.” Leadership and groups – Morris says the Tea Party is a grassroots movement with no national leadership. “Those who conduct its affairs are mere coordinators of local groups where the real power lies. The entire affair is a grass roots-dominated movement.” He notes that the umbrella group, with more than 2,800 local affiliates, has only seven paid staff members, and a payroll of $50,000 a month. An October 2010 Washington Post canvass of 647 local Tea Party organizers asked “which national figure best represents your groups?” and got the following responses: no one 34%, Sarah Palin 14%, Glenn Beck 7%, Jim DeMint 6%, Ron Paul 6%, Michele Bachmann 4%. The success of candidates popular within the Tea Party movement has boosted Sarah Palin’s visibility. Rasmussen and Schoen (2010) conclude that “She is the symbolic leader of the movement, and more than anyone else has helped to shape it.” The movement has been supported nationally by prominent individuals and organizations, including: 501(c)(4) Non-Profit Organizations: Tea Party Patriots, an organization with more than 1,000 affiliated groups across the nation that proclaims itself to be the “Official Home of the Tea Party Movement; Americans For Prosperity, a grassroots organization founded by David H. Koch in 2003, and led by Tim Phillips. The group has over 1 million members in 500 local affiliates, and led protests against health care reform in 2009. FreedomWorks, an organization led Dick Armey. Like Americans For Prosperity, the group has over 1 million members in 500 local affiliates. It makes local and national candidate endorsements. Tea Party Express, a national bus tour run by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, itself a conservative political action committee created by Sacramento-based Republican consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates; For-Profit Businesses: Tea Party Nation, which sponsored the National Tea Party Convention that was criticized for its $549 ticket price and because Sarah Palin was apparently paid $100,000 USD for her appearance (which she put towards SarahPAC); Informal Organizations and Coalitions: The National Tea Party Federation, formed on April 8, 2010 by several leaders in the Tea Party movement to help spread its message and to respond to critics with a quick, unified response. The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, a loose national coalition of several dozen local tea party groups; Prominent Individuals: In July 2010, Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, formed the House congressional Tea Party Caucus. This congressional caucus, which Bachmann chairs, will be devoted to the Tea Party’s stated principles of “fiscal responsibility, adherence to the Constitution, and limited government”. As of August 2, 2010, the caucus consisted of 49 Republican representatives. Jason Chaffetz and Melissa Clouthier accuse them of trying to hijack or co-opt the grass roots Tea Party Movement.


“Contract from America” – The “Contract from America” was the idea of Houston-based lawyer, Ryan Hecker. He stated that he developed the concept of creating a grassroots call for reform prior to the April 15, 2009 Tax Day Tea Party rallies. To get his idea off the ground, he launched a website,, which encouraged people to offer possible planks for the contract. Identify constitutionality of every new law – Reject emissions trading – Demand a balanced federal budget – Simplify the tax system – Audit federal government agencies for waste and constitutionality – Limit annual growth in federal spending – Repeal the healthcare legislation passed on March 23, 2010 – Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy – Reduce Earmarks – Reduce Taxes – The Tea Party Patriots have asked both Democrats and Republicans to sign on to the Contract. No Democrats signed on, and the contract met resistance from some Republicans who since created “Commitment to America”. Candidates in the 2010 elections who signed the Contract from America included Utah’s Mike Lee, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, Sen. Coburn (R-OK), and Sen. DeMint (R-SC). Foreign policy – In an August 2010 article for Foreign Policy magazine, Ron Paul outlined foreign policy views the Tea Party movement should emphasize: “I see tremendous opportunities for movements like the Tea Party to prosper by capitalizing on the Democrats’ broken promises to overturn the George W. Bush administration’s civil liberties abuses and end the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A return to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of active private engagement but government noninterventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.” Professor Walter Russell Mead analyzes the foreign policy views of the Tea Party movement in a 2011 essay published in Foreign Affairs. Mead says that Jacksonian populists, such as the Tea Party, combine a belief in “American exceptionalism” and its role in the world with skepticism of American’s “ability to create a liberal world order”. When necessary, they favor total war and unconditional surrender over “limited wars for limited goals”. Mead identifies two main trends, one somewhat personified by Ron Paul and the other by Sarah Palin. “Paulites” have a Jeffersonian, “neo-isolationist” approach that seeks to avoid foreign involvement. (Paul, however has described himself as a non-interventionist rather than an isolationist.) “Palinites”, while seeking to avoid being drawn into unnecessary conflicts, favor a more aggressive response to maintaining America’s primacy in international relations. Mead says that both groups share a distaste for “liberal internationalism”. Fundraising and support – Sarah Palin headlined four “Liberty at the Ballot Box” bus tours, to raise money for candidates and the Tea Party Express. One of the tours visited 30 towns and covered 3,000 miles. Following the formation of the Tea Party Caucus, Michele Bachmann raised $10 million for a political action committee, MichelePAC, and sent funds to the campaigns of Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. In September 2010 the Tea Party Patriots announced it had received a $1,000,000 USD donation from an anonymous donor. In an August 30, 2010, article in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer said that the billionaire brothers, David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch, and Koch Industries are providing financial and organizational support to the tea party movement through Americans for Prosperity, which David founded. The AFP’s “Hot Air Tour” organized to fight against taxes on carbon use and the activation of a Cap and Trade program. In 1984, David Koch also founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, part of which became FreedomWorks in a 2004 split, undue weight? another group that organized and supports the movement. Koch Industries issued a press release stating that the Kochs have “no ties to and have never given money to FreedomWorks”. Former ambassador Christopher Meyer writes in the Daily Mail that the Tea Party movement is a mix of “grassroots populism, professional conservative politics, and big money”, the latter supplied in part by Charles and David Koch. Jane Mayer says that the Koch brothers’ political involvement with the Tea Party has been so secretive that she labels it “covert”.