The Tea Party: Where Does It Go From Here?
The Party is Nearly Over
The Tea Party is best understood as the latest reactionary lurch to the right of the Republican Party during the past 60 years: the Birchers who saw the civil rights movement as a vehicle for communism, the Goldwater supporters who thought the 1964 Civil Rights Act was verboten, the election of the first true conservative (Reagan), the Gingrich Revolution and the Contract With America in 1994, and now the Tea Party. (Some would extend the historical analogy to the Dixiecrats, the KKK, the Know-Nothings, the Reconstruction Era Democrats and John C. Calhoun's "nullification" theory, though I think this is all a historical analogy bridge too far).
All of these GOP reactionary movements are composed of the same demographic: older white Protestant males (mostly) who are heterosexual and from the middle-class (sometimes upper-middle class). Some scholars and commentators think that this means the Tea Party is simply the same reactionary vessel with a different name. Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol does not think the Tea Party is going anywhere:
[The Tea Party] will triumph just by hanging on long enough to cause most Americans to give up in disgust on our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government.
Another political scientist, Chris Parker, thinks that the Tea Party may wane a bit after Obama and still carry on if Hillary Clinton is elected, but:
Of course, this logic suggests that should a white male Democrat win the White House in 2016, the Tea Party movement will vanish. If this comes to pass, the movement will go underground--I guarantee it.
These analyses aren't quite right. First, Skocpol -- who in her book on the Tea Party made the fatal failure to discuss the racial resentment aspect of the Tea Party -- wrongly discounts the business groups' well-documented frustration with the "inmates running the asylum" nature of the GOP. Business groups have far more money than the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, so Skocpol's dismissal of such is puzzling.
She also fails to note that once-Tea Party darling Paul Ryan is now taking flak from the right over his budget deal with Democrat Patty Murray. Skocpol also ignores Speaker Boehner's recent attack on the Tea Party over their political nihilism. Maybe Skocpol can see into the future better than I, but these developments undercut her strong thesis that the Tea Party might accomplish its goals.
Parker gets closer to the mark: at very least, he recognizes that racial resentment plays some part in the Tea Party's vociferous dislike of anything Obama touches: