The Tea Party's road to legitimacy: A timeline

Increasingly, the Tea Party is being perceived as a "mainstream" movement. A look at its journey in from the fringe

"Happy birthday, tea partiers," we've come a long way in a year, says anti-tax activist Dave Schwartz in The Baltimore Sun. A year after the first big Tea Party event, the movement has evolved from local groups of fiscally conservative protesters to a national movement that is arguably reshaping Republican, and American, politics. (Watch a CBS discussion about the Tea Party's power.) Here's a chronological look at the Tea Party movement's sometimes bumpy road from grassroots outsiders to mainstream kingmakers:

Feb. 19, 2009
A movement is ignited
CNBC analyst Rick Santelli delivers his "rant heard round the world" from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Declaring that he doesn't want to help "losers" pay their mortgages, Santelli calls for a "Chicago Tea Party" in July — and gives a unifying theme to a burgeoning protest movement against "big government" fiscal policies, especially the 2008 bank bailouts and President Obama's stimulus package.

April 15, 2009
The Tea Party is born
The first national Tea Party event unfolds. Tax-day protests in more than 200 cities draw an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people.

July 17, 2009
The focus expands
The "Tea Party Patriots" hold a series of nationwide protests — this time, specifically targeting the Democrats' health care legislation.

August 2009
Town-hall turmoil raises the movement's profile
In a show of force, Tea Party and other protesters swamp lawmakers' August recess town hall meetings to voice their displeasure with health-care reform. Their efforts are simultaneously dismissed as "a display of hysteria" by "frothing right-wingers" and touted as a healthy, democratic push-back by terrified citizens "engaged to the point of passion."  Their widely criticized warnings of "death panels" and government takeovers coincide with sinking public support for health care reform.

Aug. 19, 2009
Backlash kicks in
After a Tea Partier refers to Obama's "Nazi policy" to expand health care at a public hearing, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) questions her capacity for rational debate, saying he'd just as soon "argue with a dining room table." Beleaguered Democrats are heartened. As Dan Turner in the Los Angeles Times puts it, the "famously scrappy Frank" was "the first Democrat to seriously slug back" in what had become a "political slug-fest."

Sept. 12, 2009
New advances, new alarms
More than 70,000 Tea Party protesters descend on Washington for a Glenn Beck–inspired "9/12" anti-tax rally. "Liberals who want to ignore the populist anger do so at their political peril," says John Avlon in The Daily Beast, while noting "a dash of paranoia," and "Obama Derangement Syndrome" in the protesters and advising Republicans to be careful about stirring "the crazy pot."

Nov. 3, 2009
NY-23 backfires
The Tea Party mobilizes to push moderate GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava out of an upstate New York congressional race, but suffers a surprise political setback when its favored candidate, conservative Doug Hoffman, loses to Democrat Bill Owens in a district that had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Jan. 4, 2010
New decade, new recognition
New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that we're entering the "Tea Party teens," saying widespread anger and disgust among the broader electorate may give the movement the "potential to shape the coming decade."

Jan. 19, 2010
Tea Party support sends Scott Brown to the Senate
In an upset victory widely attributed to Tea Party money and activism, Republican Scott Brown wins the Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy's death. It prompts The Economist to label the movement "America’s most vibrant political force..."

Feb. 4-7, 2010
First national convention
Despite internal squabbling, the first Tea Party Convention is held in Nashville, sponsored by Tea Party Nation. Sarah Palin cements her reputation as the de facto leader of the movement by giving the keynote speech.

Feb. 16, 2010
Palin delivers a reality check
Palin tells an audience of Tea Party activists that they should align themselves with the Republican Party. While her remarks may irritate "Tea Party indies," notes Allahpundit at Hot Air, "third-party nonsense" will only distract the movement from the goal it shares with the GOP: "Knocking the Democrats out of power."

March 20-21, 2010
The party faces bigotry allegations
Reporters outside the Capitol in D.C. hear Tea Partiers yell racial and homophobic epitaphs at black and gay Democratic lawmakers en route to the final debate on the health care reform bill. Republicans distance themselves from the movement and denounce the "isolated" slurs. Tea Partiers blame the "liberal media" for overplaying the story. Joan Walsh at Salon says this proves "the Tea Party movement is disturbingly racist and reactionary." 

March 23, 2010
Protests turn violent?
In more bad PR for the Tea Party, the FBI and local police investigate a severed gas line at the house of a Democratic lawmaker's brother, whose address had been posted by local Virginia Tea Party activists.

April 14, 2010
Polls undermine the "fringe" label
A new poll paints a new, more mainstream picture of Tea Party supporters. The New York Times/CBS poll reveals that the 18 percent of respondents who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be wealthier and better-educated than the general population; a majority think their tax burden is "fair" and that Palin isn't qualified to be president. Only 4 percent of respondents said they'd attended a Tea Party event or given money to the movement. A Gallup poll from early April found that Tea Party supporters are "fairly mainstream" and "generally representative of the public at large."

April 15, 2010
A movement grows up?
In preparing for the second annual tax-day Tea Party rally, Dave Schwartz urges his fellow Tea Partiers to "distance ourselves from 'birthers,' 'truthers,' and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes." A Tea Party protest in California disinvites "birther queen" Orly Taitz, because "she's too controversial," according to a protest organizer. "This is not what the Tea Party is about at this point."


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