Tea Party will make a difference through $, not grassroots appeal
Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 22:02
Long before groups of conservatives came together to protest against higher taxes, stripping of individual liberties and calling for a reduction of the deficit, the Tea Party referred to a group of American revolutionaries dumping tea into Boston Harbor to protest against a "tea tax" levied against the colonies. Today, the mention of the "Tea Party" elicits a much different response.
The question posed to us this week is whether or not the Tea Party will have much of a say in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. My answer is yes, but not necessarily in the way people might think.
It would seem the Tea Party, though a trendy topic in 2009, has started to lose a lot of media focus lately. Perhaps this is due to the perception that although the Tea Party began as a grassroots movement, it is starting to have an air of bureaucracy.
For example, the "Tea Party Patriots" are generally regarded as the"official" Tea Party movement in the United States. They are a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit group based out of Atlanta, and claim to have more than 1,000 active chapters — a noble accomplishment.
However, the organization is run off of an undisclosed budget that I would imagine hovers in the tens of millions of dollars. It has a national chairman and a national convention. It is a very organized group, which has donors, benefactors and fundraisers. It is basically turned into just another run-of-the-mill PAC (political action committee).
Not to mention that the Tea Party Patriots is one of four 501(c)(4) organizations attributed to the Tea Party movement: Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Express being the other three — in addition to a for-profit business, The Tea Party Nation — and two informal organizations, the National Tea Party Federation and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition.
In short, the biggest selling point of the Tea Party a couple years ago was the fact that it was a purist, grassroots movement. There were no chairpersons, nor PACs, nor chapters, nor $549 tickets to the annual National Tea Party Convention.
The Tea Party did not have a caucus on the floor of the House of Representatives nor the Senate. The Tea Party was a voice for the masses of fed-up conservatives looking for an answer to President Obama's 2008 victory.
In my opinion, the Tea Party's influence has shifted because the perception of many Americans (and the media) is that the Tea Party has gone from a "movement" to an "organization." However, this has allowed the Tea Party to have a "seat at the table," and be taken seriously by party leadership.
In fact, I believe this is why the media has limited its coverage of the 99 percent "Occupy" protests and many people are beginning to disregard their message; they have become too structured.
It is somewhat ironic. Organizations form with the hopes that they will be taken seriously and recruit members. They gain political traction and garner attention from around the country. They become organized and become a powerful voice in the political system. Then they become part of the mainstream; they lose their appeal and become just another political organization.
Therefore, I believe the Tea Party will have a voice in the 2012 election — through expensive advertisements, endorsements and protests in favor of the Republican nominee. That is, in addition to whatever grassroots allure they still hold to some supporters.