The once formidable Tea Party is fading fast

The Tea Party held their fourth annual “Tax Day” event in Orlando on Sunday. It was a less-than-inspiring experience as the movement becomes a victim of its own rhetoric. Photo: Florida Governor Rick Scott (Photo: Mike Lapointe)

ORLANDO, April 17, 2012 — Florida Tea Party activists descended on Lake Eola in downtown Orlando for the fourth annual “Tax Day Tea Party” event on Sunday. Organized by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative grassroots organization committed to cutting taxes and government spending, the event brought together a number of Orlando-based Tea Party groups in preparation for the 2012 Presidential and Congressional elections.

Conservative talk radio host Bud Hedinger, from WFLA 540AM, was the M.C. for the event, and his opening remarks set a clear tone for the day. He urged the crowd to “let them hear it in the halls of power in Washington D.C. that we’re not giving up on this country, we know what this country was, and we want it back the way it was and better than ever.”

But as the day unfolded after a number of predictable and relatively uninspiring speeches, it became clear that the theme of the event was more about trying to re-establish the waning enthusiasm for the Tea Party movement than it was about re-claiming government.

The influence of the Tea Party on American politics – at all levels – has been truly staggering following the election of Barack Obama. Over 80 new Republican members of the House owed their success in Congressional and state elections to the backing of the Tea Party in 2010.

But the once formidable strength of the Tea Party movement looks to be on the decline as the national conversation surrounding the role of government in American life has become less beholden to anti-establishment sentiment.

And it’s happened almost as quickly as the movement began.

Tea Party activist Lou Pritchett, author of the open letter entitled “Mr. President, You Scare Me”, was one of the first speakers at the event. Pritchett’s letter went viral in 2009 and helped spark the first wave of Tea Party activism responsible for altering the political landscape in Congress in 2010.

At over 80 years old, Pritchett opened his remarks by recounting his memories of the Great Depression. He pointed out that “government assistance was simply not available in 1930, 1931, or the early 40’s. And I’m confident that had it been, my mother never would have accepted a nickel.”

In his speech Pritchett criticized many aspects of American democracy, including the media, Congress, the “global warming fringe,” and the Republican party itself. But the rhetoric always returned to the President. His points highlighted the Tea Party’s almost maniacal derision for Obama – and thus helped explain why Washington nearly ground to a halt over budget talks a number of times last year.

Pritchett told the crowd that he’s “seen it all” and predicted that “if Obama is re-elected, future historians will look back at the period 2008-2016 and conclude that the 44th President of the U.S. allowed the ‘takers’ to overpower the ‘makers’ and resulted in the greatest economy in the world to vanish from the face of the Earth.”

There’s no question that this type of language worked in the past. The Republican Party was forced to adapt its positions on many social and economic issues as a result of the massive influx of Tea Party candidates in Congress. But as the party gears up for another round of major elections, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to take remarks like these seriously.

The keynote speaker at the event was Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, a former for-profit healthcare businessman who rode a wave of early Tea Party support in his rise to the governorship in 2010.

Coming out to greet the crowd filling about 2/3 of the Lake Eola amphitheatre , Scott reminded those assembled of the impact they had in the elections two years prior – but cautioned that “we’re not done.”

“There’s still people up there that don’t realize that they work for us.”

The governor stayed on message in his promotion of job creation and his relentless attacks on the role of government in stifling economic growth. Stating, “We’re in the process of cutting almost 1100 state regulations,” he reassured the crowd that “we’ve reduced taxes, we’ve reduced regulation, we’ve reduced litigation, so we’re doing the right things.”

Like every speaker preceding him, Scott also played to the audience’s outright derision for the President. Referring to the impending vote on Obamacare late this year, he was hopeful that “the Supreme Court will do the right thing. And if they don’t, what are we going to do in November? We are going to elect the right people.”

But what was the most telling (and the most unsurprising) aspect of his speech was the fact that Scott never mentioned the presumptive Republican nominee for President by name. After emphasizing the “need to have a federal partner” after all the Tea Party has accomplished, Scott was presumably aware of Mitt Romney’s well-documented unpopularity with more conservative Republican voters, particularly within the Tea Party movement itself.

Romney’s struggles to distance himself from charges of “flip-flopping” on various social issues throughout his career played a significant role in hindering the former governor of Massachusetts from wresting the nomination away from fellow Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich much earlier in the year.

Nonetheless, Scott was convinced that “this is our year.”

“If we do the right thing, then we are going to have a great 2013. If we do the right thing, we’re going to have the right people elected, we’re going to change the direction. We had a big change last time but it wasn’t enough.”

The paranoid suspicion of Obama’s “socialist plan” for the United States has been a major theme in Tea Party rhetoric since the beginning. It’s not difficult to recognize how inflammatory this language is and just how damaging these sentiments are to the spirit of compromise required for government in Washington to function in any meaningful way.

But after attending the Tax Day Tea Party event, it was clear that hostility to compromise was the whole point. Bi-partisanship has been abandoned in favor of sheer political obstructionism, and that’s exactly what many Tea Party activists have wanted from the start.

Many of these activists not only actually believe that President Obama is pushing for the “socialization” of America, but that his election was an affront to the very idea of what it means to be American. They continually widen the already stark ideological divisions within America, and have made the Republican Party as conservative and intransigent as it has been since the civil war.

Tea Party members are hard-working Americans who are concerned about the state of their country. In many ways, they are right to be worried. But in aggressively pushing their story in the way they have for three years now, the Tea Party has become a victim of its own rhetoric. It won’t be the force it once was this November.

Follow me on Twitter @MikeJ_Lapointe

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Mike Lapointe

Mike is a young political writer interested in analyzing the complexities of American politics and society. His work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Digital Journal, and on his blog. He’s recently reported on the ‘Occupy’ movement, the Republican presidential primaries, and state politics in Florida.

He earned his Master of Arts in Comparative Political Science from the University of Western Ontario in October 2010, and will begin a Masters in Journalism at Carleton University in September 2012. He is currently based in Orlando, Florida. 


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