Feature

The Tea Party: Five years of disruption

Five years ago, the Tea Party burst onto the scene, transforming American politics.

“Five years ago, not many people knew of Ted Cruz or sequestration or had seen a tricorn hat,” said Tom Cohen in CNN.com. Then the Tea Party burst onto the scene, transforming American politics with its “Revolutionary War–era garb,” insistent demands for fiscal conservatism and small government, and unyielding resistance to tax increases of any kind. The movement enabled Republicans to recapture the House of Representatives in 2010 before instigating a series of dramatic showdowns with President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Five years on, the party is over, said John Stanton in BuzzFeed.com. Today’s movement is “rudderless,” and those high-profile showdowns—culminating in an unpopular, 16-day government shutdown in October—have permanently tarnished Tea Partiers as obstructionists and extremists. Republican House Speaker John Boehner now openly defies Tea Party demands, and recently helped Democrats pass a clean debt-ceiling increase and a bipartisan budget.

The media’s “outlandish” attacks on the Tea Party have certainly taken their toll, said Dan Gainor in FoxNews.com. Tea Partiers have been labeled “racists,” “homophobic,” and “wingnuts”—all because they dared to challenge “Obamacare, the $787 billion stimulus, and Big Government.” But despite those unwarranted smears, the movement has achieved its core aims, said Joel Pollak in Breitbart.com. Over the last five years, the Tea Party has blocked Obama’s attempts at “massive new spending,” and sparked a national debate on entitlement reform. The Republican Party needs the movement for ideological coherence and grassroots support, and “America needs the Tea Party, as well.”

That all depends, said Peter Wehner in CommentaryMagazine.com. The movement “arose from a justifiable concern” over the size of the federal government, but it hasn’t always channeled populist anger in a constructive way. Tea Partiers have become obsessed with excommunicating Republicans “whom they deem to be ideologically impure” in primary challenges, and replacing them with unelectable demagogues. The Tea Party still has the potential to be a “hugely positive force in American politics”—if it focuses on promoting commonsense, conservative reforms. But if it becomes more and more “apocalyptic in its rhetoric and outlook,” the movement will ultimately self-destruct.

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