From Santelli's Rant to Shutdown: A Short History of the Tea Party
In popular "lore", Rick Santelli's infamous rant on the free-market schill network that is CNBC, was the spark that lit the fire creating the tea party. There is something to this, indeed there is a lot to this ("tea party" became the perfect rallying cry for disgruntled coservatives), but it is fair to say that conservatives had already been rankled by the 2008 Democratic sweep into power and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the so-called "Stimulus Bill").
Bumper Sticker Slogan of the Tea Party
At all events, suddenly the Internet blew up, and along with the "conservative media complex" (i.e., Fox News, Drudge, talk radio, Red State) and wealthy GOP donors, like-minded angry Americans connected with each other and formed tea party groups. Then, after passage of the Stimulus Bill, President Obama decided to pursue health care reform in the form of Obamacare. As you probably remember, in the Summer of 2009, the vitriol and venom of the tea party came out in full force at town hall meeting held by MCs and senators.
The mid-term elections of 2010 saw tea party candidates sweep into Congress and state legislatures. The conservatives and the national media all towed the same line: this was a vote against Obama's liberal agenda. This was incorrect. As the Atlantic showed:
The 2010 electorate wasn't the 2008 electorate. Twenty-nine million members of the Obama coalition stayed home Tuesday, according to ABC. A different slice of America showed up at the polls on Tuesday: same gender, slightly whiter, much older, and much more conservative.
And this ties into what many people don't understand: the demographics of the tea party. Because of videos taken at tea party rallies like this one people think tea partiers are dumb, racist and backwards. This is not the case: tea partiers tend to come from the middle- to upper-middle class, are White, college-educated and older. (Sounds like the 2010 electorate, right?) They are also, as political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson found, very, very conservative. As the title of their book indicates, the tea party has indeed remade the Republican Party. (One commentator has suggested that Skocpol and Williamson gave the tea party a pass on the racial resentment among its members).