The Tea Party Movement: America’s Conservative Social Movement

While the Tea Party movement began with one angry man, it evolved into a sophisticated social movement against the political system. The Tea Party, founded during the Obama Administration, faced exclusion from the political process that caters to the rich and poor but ignored the needs of the middle class which represents a political plurality. The Tea Party saw themselves as a forgotten majority who supported free market principles but couldn't exercise their ideas as the political system forced them to pay taxes and fund an extensive, ineffective government with an uncontrollable debt problem.

In 2009, the Tea Party formed in response to the stimulus package from the Obama Administration to relieve the economic downturn. The movement was sparked on February 19, 2009, when CNBC's Rick Santelli gave a rant about President Barack Obama’s mortgage relief plan and expressed discontent with the government system. The name 'Tea Party' stems from Santelli's famous quote “we’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July' in protest of how the government spends its money.

Early local organizing within the movement occurred through social media campaigns and media coverage. Television and Facebook helped spread the video. Facebook additionally provided a place where people who agreed with Santelli's ideas could find like-minded individuals and digitally discuss the problems they saw within the political system. The early goals of the movement were to reduce the expansion of government and spending, specifically through preventing the passage of Obamacare which would give too much power to the federal government.

One strategy that the Tea Party used was protesting. A protest occurred on Tax Day: April 19, 2009. This protest was an attempt to end the oppressive federal taxes that were a part of large government. In July of 2009, protests were used to show the group's discontent with the proposed Obamacare legislation. These protests again saw the importance of social media in the Tea Party as social media helped facilitate organization.

The Tea Party did not identify as a political party but did represent a conservative movement. Therefore, the Tea Party found support within the Republican Party as Republicans favor lower taxes. The Tea Party also found support within the Libertarian supporters as both groups support smaller government.

The Tea Party experienced difficulties through their association with 'birthers' movement. The birthers agreed with the Tea Party with their dislike for President Obama but saw him as an illegal President due to their belief that he was not born in the US. The birthers shed an unfavorable light on the Tea Party Movement which caused the movement to lose support.

Trouble came for the Tea Party Movement during the elections in 2010 while pushing for political influence. The Tea Party collided with the GOP because Tea Party candidates ran directly against GOP candidates in primaries. This confrontation caused Sarah Palin to call for unity between the two groups which the Tea Party did not support because GOP candidates contributed to the political system that created their oppression. The two groups became distanced when Tea Party supporters yelled racial slurs at a Democrat. This incident caused the GOP to distance themselves from the Tea Party as they believed it would hurt their campaigns.

Despite the conflict between with the GOP, Tea Party-supported candidates like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey won their respective elections. The election of Tea Party supporting candidates created the Tea Party Caucus which intended to further the goals of a smaller government with lower debt and taxes. The formation of this caucus demonstrates a shift toward more political goals of the Tea Party.

The success of the Tea Party was mostly seen in the election of 2010 which allowed the Tea Party to push some budget reform through Congress such as sequestration. The Tea Party also saw budgetary success in the 'Pledge to America,' which promised to control spending. Despite these successes, the Tea Party's support declined due to the passage of Obamacare and a sharp drop reflected in 2015 opinion polls.

Trump's campaign ideas, which favored lower taxes and a 'draining of the swamp,' demonstrate that despite the loss in official support, the Tea Party left a lasting impact on politics. The Tea Party is much smaller than at is height as many of the 2010 electees are retiring or failing to uphold the Tea Party ideals. Still, A Tea Party Caucus remains showing that the movement has yet to completely die off. 

16 August 2021
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