Is The (Tea) Party Over ?

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post ponders the question of whether the political influence of the tea party movement is on the wane:

The polls hadn’t even closed Tuesday when “tea party” activists in Nevada started sniping at one another over whether Sharron Angle, the soon-to-be Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, was the best candidate to bring down Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid.

In Virginia, tea partiers vented on blogs and to reporters about the movement’s inability to coalesce around a single, strong candidate in two House races, resulting in the nomination of establishment candidates instead.

The national tea party movement has never had a central organization or single leader; in fact, it has boasted the opposite. But Tuesday’s primary results provided fresh evidence of the amorphous network’s struggle to convert activist anger and energy into winning results. Frustrated and lacking agreement on what to do next, self-identified tea party leaders say the movement may be in danger of breaking apart before it ever really comes together.

“No one owns the tea party brand, and that’s kind of the problem,” said Brendan Steinhauser, grass-roots director for FreedomWorks, which organizes tea party groups. “In Virginia — it breaks my heart. You’ve got six self-appointed tea party candidates and one establishment guy. You’re not going to beat the establishment guy in that situation.”

Judson Phillips, founder of another national organization, Tea Party Nation, said some activists are starting to act like mainstream politicians. “It’s supposed to be something other than politics as usual, but some of these folks are only looking out for themselves and not for the country.”

The discord is not only striking races such as those in Virginia’s 2nd and 5th congressional districts, where large fields of tea party candidates lost the Republican nomination to better organized establishment picks. It is also evident in races where tea party candidates have won — including Nevada, where Angle cruised to victory Tuesday with endorsements from the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth.

Perhaps an even more telling indicator of the Tea Party’s declining influence is a new ABC/Washington Post poll showing that the movement has lost significant support since the height of the debate over health care reform:The other problem that the Tea Party faces, especially on the local level is a lack of political sophistication, as the races in two of Virginia’s Congressional Districts demonstrated quite aptly:

In Virginia’s 5th district, Bill Hay, founder of the Charlottesville-based Jefferson Area Tea party, penned an op-ed piece in The Washington Post Sunday criticizing local tea party activists for failing to coalesce around a single candidate.

Similarly, in the 2nd District, Karen Miner Hurd, the head of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, accused the three last-placed candidates of being “selfish” for not dropping out and coalescing behind her group’s preferred candidate, Ben Loyola.

In both districts, the establishment candidate won with less than 50 percent of the vote — meaning tea party activists might have prevailed if they had rallied behind a single candidate.

In all honesty, though, none of this in surprising.

Outside of Rand Paul’s victory in Kentucky and Sharron Angle’s victory in Nevada, one his hard pressed to find an electoral contest out there that can really be counted as a “tea party” victory. As the Post notes, the movement played almost no role in the Republican primaries in Virginia, and absolutely no role in the races in New Jersey or Arkansas. Combine that with the apparent decline of the movement’s fortunes in public opinion, and it seems less and less likely that there will be much of a Tea Party on November 2nd.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. They also managed to elect someone who might actually allow Harry Reid to keep his seat. Not looking good for them so far.

  2. swift boater says:

    yea that Angle, Rassmussen has her down 50-39. Whats that? Shes up 50-39?? Nevermind.

    She wins the media will spin it as dumb luck, fed up with Incumbents, etc. She loses, its all about the Tea Party. Hacks.

  3. floyd says:

    While I too lack optimism about America’s future, I am reluctant to write off the only hope we have of stopping the slide down the slippery slope of absolute mind-numbing dependence on government for everything from food and shelter to thought.
    I have never been a “tea partyer” but I do agree with their distrust of “cradle to grave” government micromanagement of our lives.
    Whatever title it aquires overtime, rugged individualism will hopefully continue to raise it’s head, much to the chagrin of the hive-mind types who repeatedly celebrate it’s demise, in favor of a cowardly dystopia consisting of subjects rather than citizens and masters rather than public servants.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:


    It’s been pretty convincingly demonstrated that Rasmussen has two types of poll: a pro-GOP agenda-setting (propaganda) poll far out from the election, then a very different “for the record” poll closer to election time.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:


    “Rugged individualists” collecting Social Security and relying on Medicare. Yep. Rugged.

  6. Gerry W. says:

    Still don’ t know what the tea party wants. We have a multitude of problems and one subject is not the answer. We don’t want “cradle to grave” government, however, we don’t want a laissez-faire attitude and total ignorance of the problems we have. In which, that ignorance creates more “cradle to grave” government.

  7. floyd says:

    That would be merely collecting a debt owed , a debt aquired at gunpoint.
    But still you are right, FDR is a fine example of those who have favored a cowardly dystopia aquired by force until deprivation results in a dependence which saps the last ounce vitality from a once great nation.
    Sorta like Stockholm Sydrome, don’t ya think?

    An Alternative view might be one in which a small dose is medicine and the overdose which you continually advocate is poison.
    A drink of water is healthy, but try holding your head under water for ten minutes……please.

  8. Pete says:

    Michael, those of us who supported the SS ponzi scheme for 40 plus years deserve something in return because it was not voluntary. Maybe the younger generation should swallow some “rugged individualism” and be told either give up something now or give up a lot later. The train will eventually come off the tracks and what sage advice will you offer then?

  9. You have lost the forest for the trees, my friend. The grass roots activists broadly labeled as the TEA Party (actually a nationwide network of easily mobilized street-level organizations who are are a collectiion of TEA parties – plural) are even now pulling the establishment GOP toward more principled conservative positions in the aggregate. The GOP will win a landslide with these positions, and the movement will be a permananent fixture keeping them honest going forward. You can take this vision to the bank.
    [For a light hearted take on our present peril]

  10. Rick Almeida says:

    “Michael, those of us who supported the SS ponzi scheme for 40 plus years deserve something in return because it was not voluntary. Maybe the younger generation should swallow some “rugged individualism” and be told either give up something now or give up a lot later.”

    As always, sacrifice is for others, not fr these brave patriots themselves.

  11. Pete says:

    Rick, nice snark! I sacrificed for 40 years putting hard earned money into a socialist ponzi scheme. I also made something of myself. I hope you do the same, because if you depend on govt for your well being in seniority, you are a fool.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Socialist Ponzi scheme? What bullshit.

    People contributed to Social Security to pay for their parents, not for themselves. The people paying for current retirees are current workers. Granted a lot of people have misunderstood this, but it doesn’t change the facts. SS and Medicare recipients today are not spending their money, they are spending the money of current workers.

    You had an obligation to your parent’s generation which you financed through SS and Medicare. Now your children are paying for your cradle to grave security. If you don’t like it, then start agitating to raise the retirement age and means-test benefits. When the tea party starts doing that I’ll take them seriously. Until then they are nothing but rent-seekers.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    “A drink of water is healthy, but try holding your head under water for ten minutes……please.”

    Nice to know that you are against waterboarding…

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Fascinating essay:

    This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other — the anonymous blob called simply “government” — has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable. And just as in love, the one-sided reminder of dependence is experienced as an injury. All the rhetoric of self-sufficiency, all the grand talk of wanting to be left alone is just the hollow insistence of the bereft lover that she can and will survive without her beloved. However, in political life, unlike love, there are no second marriages; we have only the one partner, and although we can rework our relationship, nothing can remove the actuality of dependence. That is permanent.

    In politics, the idea of divorce is the idea of revolution. The Tea Party rhetoric of taking back the country is no accident: since they repudiate the conditions of dependency that have made their and our lives possible, they can only imagine freedom as a new beginning, starting from scratch. About this imaginary, Mark Lilla was right: it corresponds to no political vision, no political reality. The great and inspiring metaphysical fantasy of independence and freedom is simply a fantasy of destruction.

    In truth, there is nothing that the Tea Party movement wants; terrifyingly, it wants nothing. Lilla calls the Tea Party “Jacobins”; I would urge that they are nihilists.

  15. Rick Almeida says:


    “Rick, nice snark! I sacrificed for 40 years putting hard earned money into a socialist ponzi scheme. I also made something of myself. I hope you do the same, because if you depend on govt for your well being in seniority, you are a fool.”

    Thank you! I have only been contributing to SS for 22 years, so I wonder on which side of the “rugged individualist” divide I’ll fall. You seem to be ok with me paying for your retirement, and I’m ok with that as well – it’s the price of civilization. Luckily, I’ve saved 5% of almost every paycheck I’ve received since I was 15, live well within my means, and generally try to make pretty good choices. I have also been very, very fortunate – good health and few family tragedies, the fact that my father would likely be alive today if health care reform had passed 5 years ago notwithstanding.

    I continue to appreciate your courageous willingness to impose austerity on others. Keep fighting the good fight.


  16. Steve Plunk says:

    Liberals and the liberal media both want the Tea Party to die but I expect it to simmer through the summer and come to a boil just before elections in November.

    I find it interesting that the number one issue of the Tea Party is spending and debt while most experts tell us spending and debt are serious problems for us. Yet for some reason liberals treat the Tea Party people as outliers with kooky ideas and the intellect of rubes.

    Wishing them away is not going to happen and unless we quit mortgaging our children’s future away their message resonates with voters. Somebody has to inject some sanity into government spending and debt decisions. They may not have all the answers but they are asking the right questions.