Whatever Happened to the Tea Party
Certainly the Tea Party still exists on paper and smaller groups meet around the country, but in the Trump era few in Washington pay much attention. Rand Paul and a few others still espouse fiscal austerity but other issues have risen to the top of the Republican agenda. One of its founders, Matt Kibbe, recently wrote a piece for the Libertarian website Reason to give his thoughts on the Tea Party's demise. He is correct when he says....
"One thing is for sure: Under Trump, the Tea Party original agenda of freedom and fiscal responsibility has been replaced with a populist nationalism that doesn't particularly prize spending restraint. Many of the original Tea Partiers have been replaced with new activists animated by different issues, such as immigration walls and trade restrictions."
But, he is wrong to assume that those issues were new to the movement. A growing body of research on the motivations of Tea Partiers demonstrates what Donald Trump understood at a gut level; while fiscal austerity was the public message, issues of race and class were also prime motivating factors.
One such paper called "Threats to Racial Status Promote Tea Party Support Among White Americans," is based on four years of studies by Robb Willer of Stanford Graduate School of Business, Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto, and Rachel Wetts of the University of California, Berkeley. You can read the results here.
And Christopher Parker at Washington State University, writing for Brookings.edu and citing numerous studies, observed in 2014 that research on the Tea Party suggested that social and cultural issues were central to the Tea Party's Rise. He noted...
...... "people who think their way of life is threatened or perceive the world as a dangerous place tend to be attracted to conservatism. Indeed, recent scholarship indicates that at least part of the Tea Party’s anxiety is driven by a belief that America is in rapid decline, something that’s associated with perceived social and cultural change.
Hence, for Tea Party conservatives, the increasing visibility of fights for gender rights, recognition of same-sex rights, and increasing calls for embracing all immigrants heralds a threatening social and cultural change. Tea Partiers associated the election of President Obama with the social and cultural shift occurring in America. As such, he became the focal point of the Tea Party’s anxiety, the personification of their perception of a new and dangerous world."
Parker also observes from his own research; "We believe that the Tea Party is motivated, in chief, by the belief that Obama’s election represents a social and cultural sea change for what it means to be a “real” American."
The Tea Party, as it defined itself is gone, but many of the issues which motivated its members are alive and well. They have been folded neatly into Trump's "Populist, Nationalist" agenda.