A common media narrative—particularly before last night’s Mississippi Republican Senate primary—was that the Tea Party was on the ropes, beaten back by the establishment. In a new paper, Chris Parker argues that such an assessment is incorrect, and that in many ways, the Tea Party is as robust as ever and will continue to have life.
In “Wither the Tea Party? The Future of a Political Movement,” Parker notes that metrics such as fundraising and interest group membership have soared recently and Tea Party supporters have legislative (in)action to point to as success. He explains that the Tea Party continues to field candidates in a variety of races, influence the debate on issues, and hold firm to core beliefs. Those beliefs—and their origin—paint a picture of what the future holds for this political movement.
The durability of the Tea Party movement depends in large part on its motivating and perpetuating forces. It is not kept alive because of ideological commitments to given goals. In fact, Parker notes ways in which Tea Party action has stood at odds with conservative approaches to legislating. Instead, the Tea Party is fueled by what it sees as an existential threat to society and (its) American values. So long as those threats exist, the movement will remain strong and fueled by the passions of supporters.
Parker notes that one individual serves as a powerful force within the movement. He ensures Tea Party viability, assists in fundraising, and serves to boost membership. That person is President Barack Obama.
Parker challenges traditional notions that opposition to the President is based exclusively in racial resentment. Instead, he argues that Mr. Obama embodies the type of social change that Tea Partiers fear—a fear that includes race and a variety of other social and cultural factors. The paper notes that while “only 6 percent of establishment conservatives believe” that “the president is trying to destroy the country,” it is a view held by “71 percent of Tea Party conservatives.”
In this way, the Obama presidency and presidencies like this that promote social transformations will ensure that the Tea Party remains a relevant player in certain corners of American politics.