David R. Henderson  

The Tea Party is Dead

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"It has finally happened: The Tea Party is dead."

So writes Matt Kibbe, one of the original organizers of the Tea Party, in "The Tea Party Is Officially Dead. It Was Killed By Partisan Politics." Reason, February 11. Matt gives a nice brief history of its organization, pointing out how decentralized it has always been.

I can't say that I'm surprised that it's dead. As soon as it got involved with the Republican Party, it sowed the seeds of its own destruction. But perhaps I shouldn't say "it," precisely because, by its nature, there wasn't an "it." Rather the Tea Party was tens of thousands of people at the grassroots level who were organizing to have some effect at the national policy level. (And, as Kibbe points out, they did have some good effects.)

I remember shortly after the 2010 Congressional elections, when the Tea Party's visible power was at its peak, given that dozens of Republicans had been elected to Congress based on their support of the Tea Party. I was in a radio interview with a conservative interviewer who asked me how I thought the incoming new Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, might be thinking about things. I answered that Boehner is probably wondering how the heck he's going to deal with these new Tea Party members who don't want to settle for business as usual. Boy, was I on target!

So what happens next? It's hard to say. But just because the Tea Party is dead, that doesn't mean that there can't be some new organizational vehicle that will go after Republican and Democrat alike.

How about this as the slogan, drawn on how Brits reacted when the king had died:

The Tea Party is dead; long live the Tea Party.

Two additional thoughts:
1.There is one issue on which I want to challenge Matt. He writes, "We demanded that Washington politicians stop spending our money like it was theirs." If they spent money as if it was theirs, I would have loved the result. They never would have been so wasteful. Look how well organized Obama's internet technology was when he and the Democrats were spending their own money on it for the 2012 campaign, compared to how badly organized, and how much more expensive, the technology was for signing up for Obamacare. The problem is that the politicians spend the money as if it isn't theirs.
2. About Republicans, Rand Paul put it well in his one-man fight on Thursday night:
"When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party."


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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory




COMMENTS (17 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

This is a fascinating read for the understanding of the Tea Party to begin with. I had always seen it as a part of partisan politics and never quite as principled as this suggests. Indeed, I think it lasted as long as it did (relative to OWS for example) in its feral form precisely because of those features. Now it's more integrated into the Republican Party of course, but that seems to me to be a measure of its success (though its different than it was in 2010, obviously).

This seems like the same sort of argument that you hear about libertarianism failing or not being politically successful when in fact the influence has been enormous.

Shane L writes:

I am reminded of Bryan's comments on the anti-war movement of the 2000s, noting in 2015 that activity in the movement evaporated once Obama was elected:

"Heaney and Rojas reach a cynical resolution of the puzzle: Democrats energized the antiwar movement, then dropped it as soon as their side regained power. "We observe demobilization not in response to a policy victory, but in response to a party victory." Why? Because Democrats' real target was not war, but Republicans."
http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2015/07/whats_wrong_wit_19.html

Was the Tea Party similarly partisan right from the start? There seemed to be little concern about big government when Bush was in power and things like the Patriot Act and a vast state campaign to impose democracy on two foreign states were in full flow. My guess is that the Tea Party was a response mainly to the arrival of a Democrat president, one who was accused of being a non-American radical socialist. Perhaps the colour of his skin was troubling for some, too.

I find I am mainly exposed to the word "Occupy" now in the highly partisan Occupy Democrats Facebook page, suggesting that both Occupy and Tea Party were fairly easily disarmed and absorbed into the major parties.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Daniel Kuehn,
This seems like the same sort of argument that you hear about libertarianism failing or not being politically successful when in fact the influence has been enormous.
You’ve made my day, Daniel. :-)
Seriously, though, can you be more specific about how libertarianism has been enormously successful?
Was the Tea Party similarly partisan right from the start? There seemed to be little concern about big government when Bush was in power and things like the Patriot Act and a vast state campaign to impose democracy on two foreign states were in full flow.
I don’t think it was to the same degree. I’ll grant your points about the USA PATRIOT Act and the two invasions. But I think those same people would have favored those interventions even if Al Gore had, as president, initiated them. I think you need to remember how so many Americans lost their common sense after 9/11 and were so frightened that they were willing to go along with a lot of crap.
It’s true that having a Dem as president made it easier to oppose the bailouts, but I sensed a real shift in October 2008 when Bush stepped up the bailouts of financial firms. Indeed, I argued at the time that if McCain had come out strongly against the bailouts in September/October, we wouldn’t have known who won the 2008 election until the wee hours of the morning the next day: it would have been that close.

Graham writes:

"how Brits reacted when the king had died"

The statement "The King is dead. Long live the King" is not a "reaction" by "Brits" but a way of expressing the law of succession in Great Britain: there is no interregnum. The new monarch's reign begins at the instant of the old monarch's death. It is an important legal point and its establishment was part of the development of a stable society.

David R Henderson writes:

@Graham,
Thanks for the clarification. It is also a reaction.

Hazel Meade writes:

The Tea Party has been dead for at least 3 years.
First, kit's power was already on the wane after the sequester was essentially repealed in the budget deal of 2014.
But the real killer was Donald Trump and his candidacy. It split the part of the Tea Party that was essentially partisan (and racially motivated), from the parts that were actually serious about cutting spending. When that part decided it cared more about keeping out immigrants and building a (expensive) wall, it put the lie to the claim that the Tea Party was ever really interested in controlling spending, and proved that progressives had been right all along that racism was a major driver of the movement.

Mark Bahner writes:
This seems like the same sort of argument that you hear about libertarianism failing or not being politically successful when in fact the influence has been enormous.
You’ve made my day, Daniel. :-) Seriously, though, can you be more specific about how libertarianism has been enormously successful?

Yes, if libertarianism has been so successful, why am I not more happy? ;-)

Daniel Kuehn writes:

David and Mark
Presumably you're not happy because it's shifted the center of gravity without turning everyone into libertarians. The nature of politics is that people are rarely going to be happy because everyone agrees with them, but you can still have an enormous influence. The Republican party is considerably more libertarian than it used to be although obviously things don't look like they would if David had a magic wand.

Hazel Meade writes:

The Republican party is considerably more libertarian than it used to be

So libertarian it nominated a man who wants to repeal NAFTA.

drobviousso writes:

Hazel Meade - Do you have any analysis of this phenomenon that doesn't rely on intuiting the hidden motives of your political opponents and then dismissing them for those hidden motives?

How much first hand experience do you have with the tea party?

I would hazard a guess it is a lot less than I have, and I was never able to uncover the sinister racial motivations of the people I met.

David R Henderson writes:

@Daniel Kuehn,
The Republican party is considerably more libertarian than it used to be although obviously things don't look like they would if David had a magic wand.
I don’t see it. And you don’t make your point by repeating your assertion. That’s why I asked for actual evidence.
@drobviousso,
Hazel Meade - Do you have any analysis of this phenomenon that doesn't rely on intuiting the hidden motives of your political opponents and then dismissing them for those hidden motives?
I wondered the same thing.
How much first hand experience do you have with the tea party? I would hazard a guess it is a lot less than I have, and I was never able to uncover the sinister racial motivations of the people I met.
That accords with my experience with the local Tea Party and with that of a friend who was heavily involved in the North Carolina Tea Party. A number of the locals were against immigration but a number of us were strongly in favor so upfront we agreed that we would not address immigration. But I didn’t see any racism.

Mark writes:

I might hazard a guess that Daniel Kuehn is arguing that the GOP is more libertarian than it was, say, in the 70s, when it was thoroughly Keynesian and in favor of price controls and extensive redistribution. Compared with the 80s or 90s, of course, I don’t think the argument holds.

Hazel Meade writes:

In Arizona, where I lived, there was a significant anti-immigration faction in the Tea Party. Of course early on there was an agreement not to address immigration, but overtime, as the TP got co-opted by Republicans and became more partisan, that faction became more powerful. When Trump came along, those people essentially peeled off the Tea Party and switched over to becoming Trump supporters. By that point, they were the majority of the movement, so that's what destroyed it. There was not much left of it after all the people who cared more about immigration than spending switched sides, to support someone who didn't care about spending.

The thing is that I never believed that the Tea Party was racially motivated, until that happened. I would have been right there with you decrying claims that there was a hidden racial motive. But the numbers and the speed with which many Tea Party supporters switched to supporting Trump, simply because he offered to build a wall to keep out immigrants (while offering nothing on the spending side), made me think twice.

drobviousso writes:

Hazel Meade - That appears to be a two paragraph explanation that no, you don't have any analysis other than calling people racist because you disagree with them on policy.

Your lack of convincing argument says more about your motivations than those you label.

Hazel Meade writes:

So people's actions and behavior can't be used to infer anything about their mental states?

When people's behavior consistently appears to be at odds with what you expect it to be, it is time to update your priors.

Mark Bahner writes:

"Presumably you're not happy because it's shifted the center of gravity without turning everyone into libertarians."

Ummm...I don't know what to say.

You know who our President is? And who his Democratic rival was? Seriously...I really can't think of a single significant position either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton took that I would call even tending towards being libertarian.

And there's the Cato Institute human freedom rankings where the U.S. is now #17 in the world. How can that be progress?

Mark writes:

Hazel,

You’re assuming opposition to immigration is necessarily evidence of racism? Because this assumption, frankly, is just false. Nor is voting for Trump necessarily evidence of racism.

There’s a much simpler explanation. Most Tea Party people were Republicans, and Republicans tend to vote for Republican candidates, pretty much regardkess of who they are, which may be troubling, but generally has nothing to do with racism.

Would you similarly assume anyone who opposes free trade of racism? Because, in my opinion, opposition to trade and opposition to immigration are rooted in the same economic fallacy, and neither in racism. But alas, accusing someone of racism gins up opposition better than accusing them
If being bad at economics.

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