Harvard Prof: Tea Party Not Going Anywhere, More Likely to Win

A government and sociology professor at Harvard writes that the Tea Party is more likely than not to "win in the end" in an age when Americans are becoming more removed from Washington and distrusting the federal government and their elected officials. 

"Tea Party forces will still win in the end," Theda Skocpol writes, unless moderate Republicans can defeat them. Skocpol concedes that the Tea Party "will triumph just by hanging on long enough" as Americans are getting fed up by "our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government."

The article, "Why The Tea Party Isn't Going Anywhere," was first published in the journal Democracy, and later reprinted in The Atlantic

Despite the fact that Democrats, the mainstream media, and the Republican establishment again were predicting the "demise of the Tea Party" immediately after the government shutdown ended, Skocpol doesn't believe so.

"But we have heard all this before," she writes. "The Tea Party’s hold on the GOP persists beyond each burial ceremony."

Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson published a book in 2011 that "showed how bottom-up and top-down forces intersect to give the Tea Party both leverage over the Republican Party and the clout to push national politics sharply to the right."

"At the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels," they found. "At least half of all GOP voters sympathize with this Tea Party upsurge."

Though Skokpol and Williamson have their typical biases and describe the Tea Party movement as a "radical" one that may not like minorities--without any evidence of that assertion--they acknowledge that "even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority—indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center—the entire gaggle of grassroots" and outside groups that support the movement "wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates."

Skocpol observes that the "Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals" because "Americans are also losing ever more faith in the federal government." In addition, "most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies," and they have seen the Tea Party defeat establishment Republicans like Charlie Crist in Florida in 2010 and David Dewhurst in Texas in 2012 in addition to knocking off incumbent Republican Sens. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). 

"That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics," Skocpol writes. 

She writes how powerfully someone like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) resonates with the Tea Party. She noted that he was able to direct House Republicans to pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to demand that President Barack Obama and Democrats fund the government except for Obamacare. 

Skocpol notes that it will not be easy to defeat the Tea Party. 

"For one, at least three successive national election defeats will be necessary to even begin to break the determination and leverage of Tea Party adherents," Skocpol writes. She concedes that Tea Partiers will not "stand down easily or very soon."

Skocpol notes "moderate Republicans" do not have as much power in Washington or in state capitals and points to Cruz as being "very well positioned to garner unified Tea Party support in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries." The Chamber of Commerce will reportedly spend $50 million to wage war against the Tea Party, along with Karl Rove's American Crossroads; Skocpol believes unless those groups defeat the Tea Party, it may well win many permanent victories.

"During the last election cycle, no far-right candidate ever consolidated sustained grassroots Tea Party support, as those voters hopped from Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum," Skocpol writes. "But this time, Cruz may very well enjoy unified and enthusiastic grassroots Tea Party support from the beginning of the primary election season."

Skocpol also sends a warning to Democrats who think that the Tea Party will fade because of a few bad polls. 

"Once the October 2013 shutdown ended in supposed total victory for President Obama and his party, many Democrats adopted a cocky swagger and started talking about ousting the House GOP in 2014," Skocpol writes. However, she warns that "a clear-eyed look shows that Tea Party remains powerful and has achieved victories that continue to stymie" Democrats and their statist agenda. 


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