Tea Party Has Growing Pains

This Week’s Courier Herald Column:

When the Tea Party arrived on the scene for the 2010 elections it was greeted by Republicans as a breath of fresh air.  Democrats, after all, held the U.S. House, Senate, and White House.  The movement help galvanize the GOP around the central message of being “taxed enough already”.  Taking control of the House gave the GOP the standing to say the voters stand opposed to the Affordable Care Act.

The anti-establishment nature of the movement was soon shown to be a mixed bag for the GOP.  The 2012 cycle showed signs of the movement reaching its terrible twos.   The Tea Party is largely credited with the nomination of Richard Mourdock instead of incumbent Senator Richard Lugar in Indiana, a seat the Republicans lost.  Worse, Mourdock and fellow Tea Party candidate Todd Aiken branded the movement for the cycle – and largely held the blame for Republicans missing an opportunity to take control of the Senate.

Republicans during the 2014 cycle are still figuring out the Tea Party’s role in the party.  While many Tea Party members keep their outsider message, many more still have become ingrained within the structure of the GOP.  Tea Party candidates have been elected at all levels of government.  It is getting harder and harder for the Tea Party to claim “outsider” status.

The rhetoric from Tea Party leaders, however, remains fixated on an “us versus the establishment” theme, despite the toeholds within the party and elected office.  The Tea Party itself remains a largely undefined loose configuration of groups, many of whom do not have regular elections for those who lead and speak on behalf of “the Tea Party”.  The only real way to determine the standing of the Tea Party is at the ballot box – and that brings us to last Tuesday’s elections.

Many stories have already been written noting that the Tea Party is not doing well this election cycle, noting that “establishment” candidates are generally winning challenges from Tea Party candidates.  Too many have called this the beginning of the end of the Tea Party movement.  That is likely not the case.  Instead, it is likely a time for some introspection and a time to choose courses of action if the movement is to remain relevant.

There are those within the movement who have decided that winning elections is not important.  Others have decided that standing in opposition to anything and everything is a good business model.  For those who now draw mid-six figure salaries as Tea Party leaders or even more as right-leaning media types, it is a great business model.  Unfortunately business models are not easily translated into models of governance.  Worse, these models tend to work better when Republicans are in the minority party, but cause inherent conflict when the GOP stands in the majority.

The U.S. House is the current national example, with Tea Party candidates now running on a “fire John Boehner” platform.  Much like those who voted against Boehner for Speaker after the 2012 cycle, they do not offer a plan to elect someone that they are for.  They can only articulate what they are against.

Being against something is easy.  Articulate what you are for, outlining a strategy to pass it through a political process, and have the results stand up to scrutiny from voters in both a primary and a general election is much more difficult.  Such is the burden of being in a majority.  It is the burden of actually having to govern, which is the GOP’s burden here in Georgia.

In Georgia last Tuesday, the voters decided to side with those who have the burden of governing, rather than those who oppose everything.  The Governor defeated two primary challengers handily.  The Speaker also sailed to re-election in his House district. The House Education Committee Chairman defeated two challengers in a race that became a proxy on Georgia’s Common Core. Two first term anti-establishment House members were defeated.

While some runoffs remain, the only two “GOP establishment” members of the General Assembly that were defeated had ethical or personal financial issues.  One, Gwinnett Senator Don Balfour, should be a scalp that the Tea Party could claim victory over.  Instead, the leader that lives in his district temporarily moved to the Speaker’s district to battle him – and lose.

Do these results foreshadow the end of the Tea Party movement in Georgia?  No, not likely.  And it shouldn’t have to.  But it does send a message to both the Tea Party leaders and those who identify with the movement.

Republican voters in Georgia clearly sided with those who have the responsibility to govern, rather than those who are against everything.  Governing isn’t easy, and requires tough choices.  It requires tradeoffs.  Like it or not, it requires compromise.

Those in the minority can promise quick fixes, platitudes, and solutions punctuated with “it’s just that simple”.  Those with the burden of governing have to eschew these sound bites in lieu of complex, reality based actions.

While November elections will determine if Georgia remains a “red state” or becomes a “purple state”, the premise the Tea Party must begin working under is that with a majority comes the responsibility to govern.  If the Tea Party wishes to remain relevant, they’re going to have to be able to sell a message to the majority of GOP primary voters.


  1. The Barack Obama shaped dilithium crystal that powers the tea party has about two years left of juice – still plenty of time to milk naive (and sometimes well intentioned) small donors and activists for big money at the top – just look at the group that raised millions and has only spent less than $100k on actual election activity. After Obama is gone, whether Hillary or some Republican replaces him the useful tea partiers will be absorbed back into the GOP, the con artists will be filing for bankruptcy (hope you’re saving that salary) and the nuts will go back to being unbranded mixed nuts and everyone will be better off. For one thing shoddy revolutionary war re-enactments will no longer be viewed as part of political ads.

  2. Noway says:

    Were/are there any elements of what the Tea Party folks advocated that had merit with you, Chris? Just one example of what they’re all bout, smaller gov’t is essential if we are to survive fiscally in the future. Is that worthy in your view or totally unrealistic to strive for? Their movement is NOT a whole bunch of nuts running around.

    • Sure – on the state level they’ve been somewhat effective at pointing out corruption but are probably painting with too broad of a stroke for their own good right now. Like the next guy, I want the smallest government necessary but not necessarily smaller government, if that makes sense.

      When Barack Obama is involved though they collectively go nuts. A quick example: the average tea partier that I’ve debated with has issues with both the government and health insurance companies and so they advocate for HSA’s, which I think are an important part of controlling costs. Everything great so far – but their heads boil as soon as you point out that many Americans are going to need some sort of subsidy even in an HSA wonderland, and even though the Price plan (to pick one example) gives a direct subsidy to the poor to buy healthcare which is functionally not different from expanding Medicaid as either way you have the government paying for healthcare for the poor.

      So when Barack Obama is involved a lot of logic goes out the window – they say “giving” healthcare to the poor when Obama does it is unconstitutional but ignore or are ignorant of the fact that the alternative plans they allege to support have many of the same key features just at different scale.

      Both parties benefit from having an anti-corporate watchdog wing within them but the Tea Party (to me) seems to be too philosophical in its opposition to Wall Street to have done much good – they were against the bailouts without imo fully appreciating what that would have really meant, meanwhile when was the last time you saw the Tea Party propose its own version of TARP instead of just putting its fingers in their ears and proclaiming loudly that the government can’t do anything right – which ultimately just cedes the argument to whatever the pro-corporate wing of the Republican party wants to do.

  3. xdog says:

    The tp didn’t rise up in waves and surge to the gop after Obama won. They’ve been in the party fold for a long while. It’s just that the Obama win galvanized them enough to realize that they’d been taken for dupes by the gop they supported, that the same gop which was happy enough to feed them red meat and cash their checks didn’t really give a damn about their concerns as long as they pulled the right lever. The tp finally got tired of being patted on the head by their ‘betters’ and gop regulars have been trying to walk the tightrope between appeasement and embargo ever since.

    It’s OK to urge the tp to work within the party but it’s disingenuous to suggest that the party wouldn’t be just as happy if tpers went back to their old role of aggrieved and motivated but less vocal supporters.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      The tp didn’t rise up in waves and surge to the gop after Obama won.


      The Tea Party swelled after Bush’s bailouts in 2008. If Bush hadn’t given the TP 850 Billion reasons to rise up, it wouldn’t exist today. That’s why the GOP can’t stand the Tea Party, because GOP leaders know that they light a fire under their own before they even get around to the dems.

      • xdog says:

        Early 2009, Rick Santelli ranting about losers and Obama’s mortgage relief plan, calling for Tea Party-like resistance, viral youtube, anti-government protests. Ring a bell?

        The gop doesn’t hate the tp at all. In fact, they love the little buggers. They just wish they’d sit down and shut up and do like they’re told, the way they’ve done for years.

        Your ‘MythSNBC’ is just too clever. ftr I watch msnbc maybe once a month. I admit that’s more than I watch fox. Sue me.

  4. Mastodon says:

    I think Charlie has raised the correct issue, which is whether “purity” is possible or even desirable in politics. I agree with the previous post re Tea Partyer Julianne Thompson who suggests that if you find someone you can agree with most of the time you have an ally.

  5. Three Jack says:

    “Instead, it is likely a time for some introspection and a time to choose courses of action if the movement is to remain relevant.”

    I ‘m pretty sure you expressed the same sentiment after 2012 which was obviously ignored by some in TPP. And just below this thread is another where a TPP ‘leader’ endorses a candidate which goes completely against the original TPP set of guidelines (and I wonder if Julianne checked with Debbie because I think I remember Debbie making some bold statements about never supporting that librul Kingston when he first announced).

    They really need to get back to the basic function on which they were organized and stop fooling around in local elections.

  6. Mrs. Adam Kornstein says:

    Out of sincere curiosity, are there any younger Tea Party folks?

    The visuals appear to be mostly 50+ year old white men, with various women holding some of the groups together. Don’t Tread On Me stickers on cars in my area confirm same MSM meme. Which correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t a sustainable model, especially if they continue to reject affordable health care.

    I used to assume that the younger male Ron/Rand Paulites are only lukewarm to the mainstream Tea Party, since the Libertarian wing of GOP appears less social issue driven. But it’s hard to tell these days.

  7. FranInAtlanta says:

    Aiken was not a Tea Party candidate. There has been a tendency on the part of those who want the Tea Party to get mad and leave the Republican Party to blame everything that goes wrong on the Tea Party.

  8. PegM says:

    It’s hard to figure out what a “Tea Party” is. There are so many different groups that use the name “tea Party”, and each has a different issue that is their litmus test. Quite frankly from a view from above, say Google Earth, Tea Party looks like so many ants looking for a way inside the ant hill. I’m not disparaging them, just observing.

  9. debbie0040 says:

    To begin with, I don’t live in Don Balfour’s district. I moved 2 years ago. I did send out the mail piece in his district. As soon as the mail piece starting hitting mailboxes, Balfour’s numbers dropped 15 %.

    There is serious discussion about the need for a third party among many tea party activists. I am not on board with that at this time but will not vote for every race on the November ballot. A message has to be sent…

    Texas Tea party candidates were able to raise money to get their message out. That is something tea party candidates here in Georgia have not been able to do. That is something we are working on….


    “It was not a good night for Texas’s established political class. Voters gave the boot to Congress’s oldest member, 91-year-old Rep. Ralph Hall – at one point favored to win – instead nominating tea party-backed attorney John Ratcliffe. ”

    “Tea party challenger Dan Patrick defeated three-term incumbent David Dewhurst Tuesday night to win the Republican nomination for Texas lieutenant governor. Patrick, a radio talk show host and state senator, advances to the general election against Democratic nominee state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.”

    • Romegaguy says:

      Maybe tea party candidates in Georgia could raise more money if the money they actually raised now for candidates actually went to the candidates instead of the leaders of the tea parties in Georgia and their family members for “consulting”

    • Mensa Dropout says:

      There is a third party. It’s called the Libertarian Party.
      Not much different than the TEA Party, except Libertarians say “Don’t Tread on Anybody.”
      And Immigration.

      • DrGonzo says:

        Third parties don’t exist so long as we have restrictive ballot access laws that discriminate against anyone not running as a traditional Democrat or Republican.

        • Mensa Dropout says:

          The Independents (and according to most of the things I read, a great number of the population regard themselves as independents) ensure that Independents get equal access.
          I think that much of the voter apathy was because of the two party system. When voters are able to truly able to align with a candidate of their chosing and get behind that candidate without worry of throwing their vote away, then what we will have is a real governing body that actually cares about more than their title and fifedom.
          Now…how to do that?
          “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Rs and the Ds would join hands and sing Kumbaya to make sure that there are only two primary ballots.

          • DrGonzo says:

            “The Independents (and according to most of the things I read, a great number of the population regard themselves as independents) ensure that Independents get equal access.” And how exactly does that work?

            Because if I want to run in November as an Independent for, let’s say Governor? Not only do I have to fill out state paperwork and cut them a few thousand dollar-check, but then I have to gather an army of volunteers to go out across the state – not to campaign for me, but to collect basically a million signatures from registered voters. I forget the proportions required, they’re based on the office and the voting population; so if I were running for say a state legislative seat then I would require less signatures, but it’s still a gigantic pain in the ass meant to discourage people from running outside the traditional D/R dynamic. If I want to run as a D or R, all I have to do is fill out the forms and cut my check. No extra hoops required.

            I can sort of see the argument many in state government use for this phenomenon: “Well if we didn’t have these requirements we’d just have a bunch of candidates on the general ballot making printing expensive.” That was the old argument. Now that we have electronic ballots it doesn’t hold water except for absentee ballots. But how is it any different from the increasingly ridiculous primary contests we now see? We had like 15 people in the State Super primary just on the GOP side. The US Senate primary had what 7-8 candidates? That’s ok, but having 7-8 candidates on the November ballot doesn’t work? The arguments in favor of these ballot restrictions are facetious, yet our Dem/Rep masters continue to tell us that having them in place is needed. It’s not true. It’s simply a way for the D/R party (might as well just be one) to make sure no Libertarians or Constitutionalists or Socialists or Greens are ever allowed on the ballot to challenge a Republican OR Democrat.

            • Will Durant says:

              I’ve asked this before here and never had a response. How is it Constitutional that taxpayers pay for the elections (Primaries) of political parties’ nominees?

              • DrGonzo says:

                I don’t think it IS constitutional. I think our primary system here should be done like Iowa (is it Iowa? If I’m mistaken please correct me), where it’s done at the party conventions. Or we go to a jungle primary where all party candidates go on the same ballot, and the top two vote-getters face off in November regardless of party.

  10. WeymanCWannamakerJr says:

    $20 million per year to the Tea Party Patriots and their fundraisers still seems like a very poor ROI for the results. With the IRS afraid to touch them now I guess it is Open Season on the suckers. I always figured Jimmy Swaggart had the best gig.

  11. Bobloblaw says:

    “”While November elections will determine if Georgia remains a “red state” or becomes a “purple state”””

    Actually given the changes are demographically driven and not due to existing voters switching their ideology back and forth, if the Dems win in Nov, it will mean GA has gone and will stay Blue, like VA. In purple states are like OH or IA, voters switch between GOP and DEM depending on the year based on candidate performance or national trends. Not based on an increasing minority presence which is so solidly Dem, it doesnt change no matter how poorly the Dems govern.

  12. Dave Bearse says:

    Not disputing your point that there’s no Georgia history of significant numbers of voters switching back and forth between parties, but do dispute that VA is blue.

    Its statehouse has a 2/3 GOP majority, and its state Senate is evenly split. Its House delegation has been 8R, 3D about all of this century, except for the 2008 wave year session (though it had a GOP majority even then).

    Dems currently in all three of its statewide Constitutional offices is attributable to poor candidates / TP. Nominating Jackson for lt Gov in a state like VA was wack, and Cuccinelli became damaged goods. (GA 2014 may shaping up to be VA 2012 lite—Deal may be forced to deal with ethics, and Kingston, though certainly not wack, said no one would out flank him on the right when he threw his hat in the ring.)

    Both US Senators are currently Dems, but Senate representation this century has tilted slightly GOP, and had Allen not uttered macaca, would perhaps have been decidedly GOP.

  13. Ghost of William F. Buckley says:

    Suggestions for Tea Party slogans:

    “We’re not happy, unless you’re not happy.”

    “We’ll replace your insiders with OUR better insiders.”

    I am firmly convinced that the level of Pee Tardy ineptitude displayed in this Primary, locally, is directly proportional to the impurity of the message. High minded ideals that we can all agree upon perverted by angry shills.

    I say these words with great sadness; the Union will not benefit from lofty Tea Party objectives because the group cannot plan and execute effective strategy.

    People are tired of fighting, and fighting BOTH Parties insures convincing losses. It gives me no pleasure to share this point of view.

    ~Deeply Disappointed~

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      Oh come on, if we’re gonna be that childish:

      Suggested slogans for the GOP:

      “Yes! . . . Master.”

      “Shut up and vote Republican, because, well, we’re not Democrats.”

      “Committed to shrinking the scope government since the days of Lincoln, without actually doing it.”

      • Will Durant says:

        Well it is certainly hard to “go negative” when you have never been positive. Even your chosen name here is a negative. Use some of your venom on your own people that have adulterated the original message to their own purposes.

        • DrGonzo says:

          Hard to be positive about a Republican Party that is constantly talking out of both sides of its mouth and has been for DECADES. At least the Democrats are honest about growing the size and scope of government. Republicans say they want the opposite and campaign as such, and then proceed to govern in a manner that grows the size and scope of government.

          • seenbetrdayz says:


            People act like the tea party just popped up out of nowhere for the sake of being a-holes. As if the GOP was doing just great as the party of ‘smaller government’ and then up out of nowhere the Tea Party appeared and started causing a ruckus. Right?

            • DrGonzo says:

              I concur. Then the Tea Party folks get told “you have to work this out within the party”. Well, if the GOP were serious about the issues raised by the Tea Party, they’d be willing to discuss things. Instead, they’d rather we all just shut up and went home and voted Republican when we’re asked like good party hacks. Tell me, where has our party loyalty gotten this country?

              • WeymanCWannamakerJr says:

                If you aren’t part of the solution… Do they still have Optimists Clubs? Do they offer interventions?

                Doom, despair and agony on me
                Deep dark depression, excessive misery…

                Too low brow?

                Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
                Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
                To the last syllable of recorded time;
                And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
                The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
                Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
                That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
                And then is heard no more. It is a tale
                Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
                Signifying nothing.

                Now that I’ve got you inspired go out there and find somebody to vote against!

                • seenbetrdayz says:

                  What exactly is “negative” about what’s being said?

                  Do you guys accuse the weatherman of being negative if he says it’s gonna rain today, or do you pack an umbrella?

                  Admitting that there’s a problem is the first step to recovery, but too many people in the GOP aren’t willing to admit to themselves that they’ve been voting GOP all their lives and haven’t seen the cuts from the government they keep being promised.

                  But this is not being ‘negative.’ It’s just telling you guys that your party leaders are raining on you. And the rain is yellow. And you should probably throw away that umbrella when you’re done with it.
                  Oh but, don’t hate—I’m just the meteorologist.

                • DrGonzo says:

                  The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who do not possess it.

  14. saltycracker says:

    The Tea Party struck a chord with a large number of folks calling for a better defined, fiscally responsible, less invasive central government.

    It quickly became a hydra-headed form with unique “litmus tests”.

    What we wanted was Heracles, what we got was the Hydra of Lerna.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      Some of the things the TEA party supports are very worth supporting. The tactics used is trying to accomplish those things have been horrible. Trying to take out the Speaker was a stupid move unless it could be done. It couldn’t be done and it still can’t be done. Now the leader of the house isn’t your friend. I’m sure he’ll still do what he thinks is right, but on things that he doesn’t have a strong opinion on, I imagine he’s not going to break on Debbie’s side just to spite her.

      I wouldn’t mind a stronger ethics bill, but coming after them with pitch forks isn’t the way to get what you want. A little more diplomacy and tact would be a better. My way or the highway doesn’t leave much room in the car. What some folks have forgotten is that they aren’t in the driver’s seat.

      • saltycracker says:

        Are you referencing Canton TP chair, Carolyn Cosby, who just resigned to run against Buzz Ahrens for BOC Chair ?
        The tea party and Republicans have to be dancing in the aisles to see her go independent.
        Grab the popcorn, we just thought WTF in Cherokee…..

    • debbie0040 says:

      There are many Republican elected officials that think the tea party should just focus on the Democrats and leave some unethical Republicans alone on the state level. That is not going to happen..

      Republicans help get this country in the financial problems we are having – It wasn’t just the Democrats…

  15. debbie0040 says:

    Did you guys happen to see the election results in Virginia? The House Majority Leader just got his butt whipped by the tea party candidate. Guess the projections of the tea party being dead are wrong.

    We adapt, improvise and eventually overcome and we NEVER give up. We keep coming back and coming back.. It is a war and you don’t give up – you just pick up unexpected allies..

    David Ralston has never been an ally of the tea party. The bottom line is it isn’t just me that wants to see legislation passed or killed. It is thousands of activists that get engaged Ralston would be saying no to. Let him deny them… We are just getting started…

    Doug, the voters are in the driver’s seat..

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      The reports and rumors of the demise of the TEA Party have been greatly exaggerated.

    • Charlie says:

      Yes, I can see the results in Virginia. I also saw the results here on May 20th. Did you see those?

      Tell me again which one you’re responsible for?

      • debbie0040 says:

        Tea Party Patriots State Coordinator Larry Nordvig, worked very hard on this on the ground in Virginia.. He could have gotten Jenny Beth on the phone if needed.

        I saw the May 20th results. We will see the results come November .

      • debbie0040 says:

        I just spoke to Jenny Beth and she said that it is absolutely not true he could not get her on the phone. Where did you hear that? Need a link so I can send to her.

        • Charlie says:

          National Journal seems to say otherwise:

          “In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local Tea Party activists who helped propel him over the top.”


          • debbie0040 says:

            Not one national tea party group thought Brat had a chance. Local tea party groups mobilized on the ground for Brat and caught Cantor by surprise. It worked to Brat’s advantage that national groups did not endorse him because he was under the radar.

            Charlie, you don’t like the tea party unless we just go after the Democrats and that is very clear. You are naive if you try to say that the tea party had nothing to do with Cantor’s defeat..

      • debbie0040 says:

        Neither will the U.S. Chamber of Commerce..

        The U.S. Chamber declared war on tea party candidates. We just declared war on a few of their candidates. Bye bye Cantor.

        Hope Thad Cochran soon follows

    • Ellynn says:

      What this means is that the chances of VA-7 becoming held by either a democrate or a libertarian just increased.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Libertarian…not likely, but a Democrat…no way. The 7th Congressional District of Virginia is a pretty Conservative area in a state that is pretty Conservative outside of the increasingly-liberal D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia.

        It appears that you underestimate the depth of the level of Conservatism in the state of Virginia outside of the liberal D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia.

        The D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia = Liberal Northeastern establishment

        The rest of the state of Virginia = Ultraconservative Deep South culture that makes most parts of Georgia look downright liberal

        Richmond (whose very-conservative Northern and Western suburbs makes up part of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District) was the capital of the Confederacy. “Old Virginny” lives on despite the takeover of the Northern part of the state by Northeasterners.

  16. Three Jack says:

    Funny that Dave Brat attempted to distance himself from the TP on Hannity and has absolutely no mention of the TP on his campaign website. The media and Debbie Dooley might want to check with Brat before claiming him as the TP candidate.

    He called himself the grassroots candidate, not the TP candidate. Whatever the label, glad to see that pompous Cantor become the first majority leader in history to lose a primary. Here’s hoping Brat does not stumble into a Moore moment.

  17. griftdrift says:

    I actually feel sorry for the Tea Party. You’ve been sold a bill of goods. Medicine show men like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin has been telling you for years that not only is your cause righteous but that you are winning.

    Meanwhile, Republicans have lost the popular vote in 5 out of 6 of the last Presidential elections and are well on their way to losing a 6th. And a significant portion of the electorate is not only questioning whether Republicans can govern but whether they even have any interest in governing.

    • notsplost says:

      There hasn’t been much “governing” going on since the first term of the Clinton Administration. Unless you are a Wall Street criminal or a military-industrial complex beneficiary, it’s been more of a “can-kick-a-palooza.”

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