Exclusive -- Social Media and Activism Build Tea Party 2.0
As the Tea Party descends on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., again on Tuesday for Tea Party Patriots’ Exempt America rally, it is becoming clear that the movement as a whole has evolved into an activist powerhouse. It is empowering a new class of populist political heroes. Those who would by previous political conventional standards be considered "back-benchers," are now exercising power in Washington and in statehouses nationwide.
Through a series of interviews with local, state and national leaders, Breitbart News has learned of a variety of new tactics the Tea Party movement has used to transform itself into a grassroots network holding politicians of both parties accountable.
ForAmerica chairman Brent Bozell, a longtime conservative activist at the national level, notices what he called a “seismic shift” in the conservative movement “at a number of levels.”
“One, there is a new generation of organizations emerging,” Bozell said in a phone interview. “This is cyclical. Organizations come and organizations go. And there have been new organizations emerging on the scene in recent years, whether it’s Tea Party Patriots or FreedomWorks or AFP or ForAmerica. You also have new communications vehicles like Breitbart, CNS News, things that weren’t there a few years ago. And then you’ve got new platforms that have emerged. And that’s where ForAmerica comes in because we have made a very serious investment in developing a new social media platform for the movement and I think it’s quite successful. We now have millions of members as a result. I think the movement is being transformed and it’s a positive thing.”
Internal ForAmerica statistics provided to Breitbart News show that its social media network has generated more than 40,000 phone calls to U.S. Senators and Congressmen on just the Defund Obamacare campaign. That is just phone calls tracked with special 800-numbers that ForAmerica created to see how many Tea Partiers nationwide were getting involved in this campaign. Organic calls and emails from grassroots activists pushing for the defunding of Obamacare range much higher than that, to the point where the most powerful people in the country in both the Republican Party and Democratic Party are being forced to respond to the grassroots pressure.
“If you work in somebody’s senate office and you get 15 phone calls on an issue in a day, that’s considered a lot,” Bozell said. “We’re delivering thousands and thousands of phone calls to Senate offices from people all over the country. These senators are being hit right between the eyes and they’re realizing they can’t take their constituents for granted anymore.”
Bozell said while instrumental to the movement, the hundreds of thousands of people descending on the national mall for a rally against President Barack Obama’s policies are not necessary anymore. “The rallies were the original manifestation of muscle-flexing but as movements go along they don’t do that anymore,” Bozell said. “They grow in other ways. MoveOn.org doesn’t have massive rallies but organizations like that are very prominent on the Democratic side; it didn’t go away. If you define Tea Party movement as ‘grassroots,’ just look at the polls and they tell you a story. When Ronald Reagan was president, 30 percent of America called itself ‘conservative.’ Today, 44 percent of America calls itself ‘conservative.’”
The rallies are not where the politicians are actually held accountable; they send a message to them to let them know thousands of people are watching their actions. That is largely what Tuesday’s rally on Capitol Hill is: a capstone to a month marked by sweeping successes from the conservative base as they have held their members of Congress accountable, and seek to continue doing so moving forward into the latter months of 2013 ahead of the crucial 2014 midterm elections.
Tanya Robertson, a mom and Tea Party activist from the Houston, Texas, area who will be speaking at Tuesday’s rally knows that. Robertson is one of the Tea Party leaders around the country who might not make national headlines every day, but she is in the trenches setting up events to hold her local members of the Congress accountable on Obamacare, Syria,amnesty and guns. She works to coordinate town halls, panels with members and works with national political activists to keep her local members of Congress as conservative as possible. “It is not only essential to voice your opinions, and your wishes, as a constituent to your representatives, it is vital that their answers to your questions are on record,” she told Breitbart News. “Whether you acquire a video recording at a Town Hall meeting, a recording from your phone of a one on one Q & A, or keeping a correspondence that was sent in a response to your question. Then, most importantly, make sure it goes public! Push it out via any means possible: Twitter, Facebook, letters to the editor in your local newspaper, email to connections, and any media source you may have.”
Robertson’s and her fellow activists’ work has paid off: Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), one Congressmen from her area, is one of the few members of the House to come out in public opposition to any conference committee between the House and Senate on the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill. He did so during a town hall event when another local Tea Party activist pressured him to answer whether he would.
Robertson is one of thousands of examples of unsung Tea Party heroes nationwide that Breitbart News has spoken with over the course of August. In South Carolina, local activists are organizing events, passing resolutions and vetting and preparing candidates aimed at taking out Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Myrtle Beach Tea Party president Joe Dugan, a victim of political targeting from President Obama’s IRS, made the hour-long drive to Columbia last week to join Tea Party Patriots national co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and ForAmerica’s Bozell, among others, for a press conference targeted at Graham for his failure to fight against Obamacare and actually defund it. “If you don’t file a tax return, you’re exempt [from Obamacare],” Dugan stated from the steps of the South Carolina state capitol. “If you’re an illegal alien, you’re exempt. If you’re in jail, you’re exempt. If you’re a member or staff in Congress, you’re exempt. For every exemption, it adds to the burden on the many wage-earners and taxpayers.”
Dugan and his fellow South Carolina Tea Partiers have been organizing for months in an effort to hold Graham accountable, and educate the public about his abandonment of not just conservative but mainstream GOP principles.
Down in Tennessee, a similar phenomenon is emerging. Loria Medina, the co-founder of BEAT LAMAR, a grassroots conservative group aimed at replacing Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with a conservative, told Breitbart News her group is working on new forms of technology to help get out the vote on election day, and is holding candidate forums to test out potential primary challengers to Alexander. The first, and thus far only, candidate, state Rep. Joe Carr, has risen to the front of the pack there and Medina said the grassroots plans to unite behind him. Medina notes Tea Partiers, heading into year five of the movement, are “more experienced.”
“We know the RNC is never going to step up to where we really need to compete at the level the Democrats are,” Medina said in a phone interview. “And we are doing it without them. They can join us, but we’re not waiting on them any longer.”
The movement can just as easily take away power from those who gain it. In Arizona, Tea Party activists have targeted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his support of President Obama’s desire to militarily strike Syria and his push for amnesty, among other things. They have gone into his town hall events and criticized him for the positions he has taken in Congress. Perhaps more significantly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)--who was elected over Charlie Crist in 2010 with massive Tea Party support--is not scheduled to speak at Tuesday's "Exempt America" rally, according to its website. While Rubio publicly says he supports efforts to defund Obamacare in the upcoming Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government, his pro-amnesty work on immigration has severely damaged his reputation throughout the GOP base.
Leaders in congress like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) know how influential this organic grassroots network is in the political world. Cruz has literally called for a “grassroots army” to rise up to help him beat Obamacare. Lee told Breitbart News that Tea Partiers “have played a critical role is shaping the push to defund Obamacare.”
“They played the same type of role in protecting our Second Amendment rights earlier this year, as well as uncovering the truth about the 'Gang of 8' immigration bill,” Lee added in an email to Breitbart News. “Using tools like email and social media allow small and local communities to impact the debate in ways that are faster and more effective than ever before. Their support has been crucial to fighting and winning many of these important debates in recent months."
In his interview with Breitbart News, Bozell points to Cruz as the shining example of what this new form of activism from the Tea Party movement can develop. “Ted Cruz came out of nowhere and won the Senate race in Texas because he employed social media,” Bozell said, adding that there is “no question” more examples of people like Cruz will emerge around the country in the coming months and years. “What has happened is that the old guard, whether it is in the media or whether it is the Washington Republican establishment, they’re going to scratch their heads and just not understand it. These people are going to keep coming out of nowhere.”