The “Tea Party” Movement, More Hype Than Reality

The validity of a political movement or party should be judged by the issues and policies that it champions as well as the candidates that it supports. Since 2009, the Tea Party has held sway over the Republican Party, moving its politics farther to the right and contributing to House Majority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) inability to find common ground with the Obama administration.

A recent Pew Center poll shows that the Tea Party is popular within the Republican Party, but losing support within the general electorate. “… more [people polled] say they oppose the Tea Party movement than support it (44% vs. 32%) … the balance of opinion among independents toward the Tea Party is much more negative: Just 30 percent support the Tea Party movement while 49 percent are opposed.”

The Tea Party had a major impact on the 2010 midterm elections. According to Bloomberg, “Republicans gained at least 60 House seats in the Nov. 2 election and Tea Party-endorsed candidates accounted for 28 of those pickups …” but their losses in the other chamber contributed to the Republican's inability to take control of the Senate. While the Pew Center poll shows clear support for the Tea Party within the Republican Party, “About six-in-ten Republicans (63%) say they support the Tea Party. That jumps to 77% among Republicans who describe themselves as conservative.” So far, that support has not been reflected in support for Tea Party-backed candidates in the 2012 presidential field.

The Tea Party's inflexible strict “conservative” ideological litmus test is not translating well in the Republican presidential campaign as evidenced by the Tea Party-backed candidates that entered the race with such promise and hype only to wilt under the hot lights of public scrutiny. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota), founder of the Tea Party Caucus, entered the race in June with much fanfare. She won the Ames Straw Poll and according to The New York Daily News infused, “… a fresh dose of momentum into the campaign of the Tea Party darling.” Recently, due to a lack of substantive policy initiatives and misguided perspectives on history and other issues, Representative Bachmann has slipped almost off of the campaign radar. According to Reuters, “A new poll shows the Minnesota Congresswoman, a Tea Party favorite, tied for tenth in New Hampshire after peaking as high as second in June.” The New York Daily News reports that Bachmann's, “… entire New Hampshire campaign staff has quit en masse.”

As Bachmann self-destructed, Texas Gov. and Tea Party favorite Rick Perry articulated hot-button, hard-core, neo-conservative positions and stepped to the forefront of Republican presidential hopefuls in August. According to Real Clear Politics, Perry entered the race “… with favorable polling numbers. Most recent national surveys have him near the top of the ballot behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.” The Washington Post reported, “The Tea Party retains considerable power within the GOP and its backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry has installed him as the frontrunner in the fight for the nomination … “

Perry has now befallen the same fate as Bachman. As of this writing, Perry has dropped in the polls at a rate almost as quickly as he ascended. His “Niggerhead” ranch problem, his Dallas surrogate pastor Robert Jeffress recently referring to Mormonism as a “cult,” his recent flirtations with the “birther” movement and his poor debate performances have not served him well with the Republican faithful.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, among all conservatives, Perry's support has been sliced in half, from 39 to 19 percent. In spite of his problems, Perry is down, but some believe he is not necessarily out. He has a formidable war chest and could retool his campaign to give Romney a real run for his money. For Perry, it will be a steep climb and heavy lift.

Now, the Tea Party flavor du jour is the self-described Herman “Black Walnut” Cain. By most accounts, Cain has become the Republican frontrunner. According to a NBC/WSJ poll,Cain leads the Republican field with 27 percent support, followed by Mitt Romney at 23 percent and Rick Perry at 16 percent. Among Tea Party supporters, Cain's positive/negative rating was 69 percent to 5 percent.

Based upon Cain's performance in the Nevada debate, his status as a frontrunner may be short lived. Cain's surge to the front had a lot to do with his simple 9-9-9 tax proposal. He was able to fend off early challenges by claiming that his critics didn't understand the numbers, their assumptions were wrong or that adding the state sales tax to his plan is “mixing apples and oranges.” Further analysis has demonstrated that Cain's plan is not simple, but simplistic. It is a regressive tax, and his tax savings for the middle and working classes don't exist. According to, 9-9-9 results in a 27 percent payroll tax and would “materially raise the tax burden on many low-income and middle-income taxpayers …” Analysts are starting to say nein, nein, nein to 9-9-9. His stance on abortion, his 9-9-9 plan and lack of understanding of foreign policy are starting to cause him problems with the conservative base.

The validity of a political movement or party should be judged by the issues and policies that it champions as well as the candidates that it supports. As Republicans struggle through their “anybody but Romney” selection process, the Tea Party with the assistance of mainstream media continue to hype weak and inexperienced prospects such as Bachmann, Perry and Cain while Republican leadership continues to succumb to their madness.

By allowing their party to be controlled by the small but vocal Tea Party, whose obstructionist mission rejects everything that comes from President Obama, Republicans risk alienating the rest of the electorate. Politics is the art of compromise for the betterment of all; but by being so inflexible and wedded to winning the ideological battle, in the end the American people lose.