The preceding installments have shown that the stated goals of the Tea Party - a reduction in the U.S. national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing government spending and taxes – have essentially been met.
To go further in that direction would result in cutting into government programs in ways that even the Tea Partiers themselves have shown in public polling that they oppose.
Nevertheless, the Tea Party continues, in various incarnations, to exert a strong attraction for current and prospective Republican candidates.
In many respects the group that initially called itself the Tea Party has fragmented into a number of components. At first that group still maintained its cohesion over its opposition to the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. However, as the most recent polls have demonstrated, even that focal point of cohesion has lost its potency.
Now, as can be seen in watching the various Republican candidates, their base has been reduced to a variety of fractious elements taking opposing views to a number of social trends. Among these are LGBT Rights (including marriage), immigration policy, women’s rights including abortion, recognition of and policy toward climate change, gun rights and “religious freedom” issues.
To a large extent these various elements break down into three groups.
First and foremost among them are the “science deniers”. These are most pronounced among those who oppose climate change action. Their core argument is that the jury is still out while the preponderance of scientific evidence is clear. They are joined by the religious component who believe that the earth is only 4,000 years old and that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Also among these are those who cannot accept that one of the realities of a pluralistic society is an acceptance of the rights of others in commerce and trade. Hence the movement toward “religious rights” legislation.
The second group are those who have been convinced through a program of misinformation that their cherished rights are being undermined. The most vociferous element of this group are the guns right proponents who have been convinced that their cherished right to keep and bear arms is only a hairs breadth from being abrogated. Not only does the evidence of the last seven years contradict their fears, but the realities of gun violence indicate a profound need to rethink our policies in this area.
The third group is comprised of those whose economic livelihood is threatened by policies related to these issues. Foremost among these are those whose livelihood is wedded to an economy based upon carbon-based sources of energy. Clearly among these are coal miners whose occupation is already declining into obsolescence. However, other fossil fuel-based activities are moving in the same direction whether it is the realization of the horrific damage resulting from “fracking” or the geopolitical consequences of relying on foreign sources of petroleum.
Of these groups only the last can claim any degree of legitimacy, albeit shortsighted. The remainder are proceeding from false premises.
The challenge for the Republican candidates in the next election is to forge some form of coalition of this variety of groups whose goals do not always overlap. In essence it will be an assemblage of people who opposed things as opposed to having any form of clear agenda to accomplish anything in the foreseeable future.
What does remain are two elements that are not wedded to any of the aforementioned issues.
The first are those who are opposed to President Obama and his policies for reasons no other than his race. As much as they may protest this fact, the reality is that they do exist and their influence is more pronounced than any of the Republican candidates are willing to admit – despite the implicit racist dog-whistles employed in their rhetoric.
The second group is the true foundation of the Tea Party movement. It is the collection of neo-plutocrats whose influence has grown with the increasing disparity of economic inequality in this country. It is this group, through a variety of organizations ranging from direct legislative actors such as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) to various PACs such as American for Prosperity.
It was these groups who in large measure fostered the birth of the Tea Party movement. Within that framework they have sponsored a variety of the sub-groups who foster points of dissension within the American electorate while pursuing their own goals through federal and state lobbyists and legislators designed to protect large financial and corporate enterprise, curtail unions, dismantle regulatory agencies, foster tax advantages, further their interests in trade negotiations and curtail any elements of the social safety net.
In reality the Tea Party movement always was an “astroturf” enterprise into which many were initially duped to participate not realizing that they were serving the interests of big money groups. They were serving as a counterpoint to progressive forces through a cunningly designed and implemented program emphasizing the view that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
It is this context that the question “What does the Tea Party really want?” becomes a meaningless exercise.
As the foregoing sections have shown, what the Tea Part really wanted has been achieved. As such the original organizing principles around which it was formed have ceased to exist. What remains is not the organization that so many were originally inclined to join. What remains is a disjointed coalition of single issue splinters and bigots whose interests are being fanned by a plutocratic elite in order to further entrench their interests at the expense of the drones who they manipulate. And it is that group to which the cadre of Republican office-seekers by and large address themselves.