On the Record

The Tea Party Movement

Jonathan Rauch

Jonathan Rauch joins Linda Wertheimer on NPR’s Morning Edition to discuss the primary elections and the impact of the Tea Party movement.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host: We’re reporting throughout the program on the primaries held in several states yesterday.  And one of the themes was the strong showing of several candidates backed by the Tea Party. In Delaware, one of the those candidates, Christine O’Donnell, won the Republican Senate primary nomination, she defeated Mike Castle, a nine-term Congressman, who had the support of the Republican establishment.  And in New York, Carl Paladino, a blunt talking multi-millionaire with Tea Party backing, beat a former Congressman, Rick Lazio, for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

All of which makes this a good time to take a closer look at the Tea Party movement.  Tomorrow, two Tea Party members debate what the movement stands for.

Today, we’re joined by Jonathan Rauch, contributing editor at the National Journal and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. Jonathan, welcome.


WERTHEIMER: Let’s start with an obvious question that I guess doesn’t have an easy answer.  Who is the Tea Party?  Is there a short answer?

RAUCH: No, there is no short answer and that’s one reason this phenomenon is so baffling to journalists like me.  We keep looking for the leader of the Tea Party.  It’s a fantastically decentralized movement, it consists of basically anyone out there who calls themselves a Tea Partier and it’s pretty hard to generalize.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have any idea how big it is?

RAUCH: Well, they claimed, depending on how you read the polls, 17 million Americans, but that can be anyone who answered a question saying that they are sympathetic to the Tea Party.  We know that the largest of the Tea Party national groups, which is called the Tea Party Patriots, has almost 3,000 local organizations that are registered on their website.  And if you figure that’s anywhere between 20 to 100 people in each organization, then you can do the math and looking at a minimum of tens of thousands of activists.

Listen to the full interview on the NPR web site