The past year has by far been the best for the Tea Party movement in its short history. In 2013, the five-year old conservative grassroots upsurge has grabbed Washington, D.C. by the collar, tearing the city colloquially known as “Boomtown” in a conservative direction for the first time in decades. As the Tea Party movement matures, it is getting more professional in its political activism.
The way the Tea Party won 2013 is by entrenching itself in Washington warfare and fighting for conservative victories by connecting powerful grassroots activists directly with lawmakers in decision-making positions. What has happened is the movement has matured, and learned how to manipulate the ways of Washington to promote conservative policies while defeating liberal ones.
In the short months after President Barack Obama’s re-election, a core group of conservative House Republicans–many of whom were elected in 2010 or 2012–developed a plan to attempt to unseat House Speaker John Boehner on the House floor. While the early January vote was ultimately unsuccessful, the 12 House conservatives willing to stand up to Speaker Boehner scared him as he began the 113th Congress. That 12 of his own members were willing to vote against the Speaker was unprecedented in modern times, and given that only 17 votes were needed to actually remove Boehner, it put the veteran Ohio Republican leader on notice that any caving in 2013 would have drastic consequences for his future as Speaker. The narrative had been set: The Tea Party runs the House, and by extension, Congress.
Meanwhile, a little more than a month after Obama won re-election, Adam Lanza opened fire to kill 20 children and six staff members at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook elementary school. Obama, emboldened coming off re-election, deputized Vice President Joe Biden to seize the opportunity to lead a push for gun control in 2013. Conventional wisdom in D.C. would have had most Americans believe that gun control was going to happen.
The left’s plan was to pass legislation out of the Senate, garnering some GOP support, then force Boehner to cave and push some kind of gun control measure through the House.
But the president’s allies in Congress did not count on three conservative U.S. Senators–two of whom were elected in the Tea Party’s 2010 electoral surge and one of whom was elected in 2012 –to stamp out their prospects of limiting Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) emerged to defeat gun control in the Senate.
How did they do it? They harnessed the power of the grassroots, energizing ordinary Americans while connecting the grassroots with their efforts in the Senate. Paul, Lee, and Cruz wrote to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in early March 2013 to inform him of their intent to filibuster any effort to limit Americans’ rights as established by the Second Amendment.
Then, they rallied Americans against the efforts of the political elite using petitions and social media. While NBC News, New York Times, and CNN reporters inside the beltway wooed politicians in Washington into believing Americans supported restrictions to the Second Amendment, Paul, Lee, and Cruz systematically shut down the phony appearance of support for gun control and utilized Senate procedures available to the minority to kill any chances of a vote that would limit Second Amendment protections for Americans.
Grassroots leaders grew emboldened. Dustin Stockton of Western Representation PAC (formerly of TheTeaParty.net), for instance, hatched a plan to hold about 100 rallies in cities across America, and thousands of Americans lined up to come out to show their support for the Second Amendment. Stockton’s “Day of Resistance” rallies fired up the conservative grassroots against more than just gun control: they focused in on the Obama administration’s failure to tell the truth about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, their refusal to cooperate with the congressional investigation into the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, and the failure of Obamacare.
By early spring, Republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) were ready to cave on gun legislation for months. Toomey even co-wrote a watered down gun control bill with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would have pushed for more stringent background checks–something that, if passed by Congress, would have been seen politically as a victory for the president. But, with the public firmly against any gun control measures and a cadre of three Tea Party leaders in the U.S. Senate willing to put it all on the line to defend Americans’ right to keep and bear arms, momentum for new gun control legislation fizzled.
In late December 2013, more than a full year after the Sandy Hook tragedy that Democrats attempted to seize to push gun control, National Public Radio’s Ailsa Chang reported that “2013 was a disheartening year” for gun control lobbyists. Chang’s report detailed how gun control groups now admit defeat and acknowledge that defeat came at the hands of the powerful grassroots across America.
Earlier in December, as Breitbart News’ AWR Hawkins reported, Biden and the White House signaled they will lay off gun control and focus instead on mental health issues.
Defeating gun control was hardly the only time the Tea Party movement has grappled with, and beaten, the Obama administration in 2013. Amid the beginning of the 2013 gun control fight, Sen. Rand Paul launched another Tea Party-driven offensive, this time against the Obama administration’s use of drones. Paul took to the U.S. Senate floor for an epic 13-hour filibuster that forced the Obama administration, particularly Attorney General Eric Holder, to admit in writing that it did not have the authority to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil with a drone.
Paul’s filibuster brought Tea Party-minded Senators like Cruz, Lee, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to the floor to back him up; after it became clear his bold move would spark a victory for conservatism and libertarianism in America against the Obama administration, GOP leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined him on the floor. As such, Paul’s filibuster also meant something bigger than just another defeat of the Obama administration by the Tea Party movement: the GOP establishment was forced to rally around the Tea Party, rather than around leftists and Democrats.
Shortly thereafter, the biggest fight of 2013 commenced over immigration reform. Rubio had joined Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) to draft a bill that would drastically increase legal immigration numbers to America and grant amnesty to America’s at least 11 million illegal aliens. Despite claims to the contrary, the “Gang of Eight” bill would not secure the border and would not result in an increased ability for America’s law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law.
Obama backed the bill and even sent White House staff over to U.S. Senate office buildings to help write it. Comprehensive immigration reform would have been seen politically as Obama’s big second term agenda item if it were to pass into law. It would be equivalent in scale and importance to Obama’s legacy and agenda as Obamacare has been.
Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, and Paul Singer financed a campaign to push for the bill’s success. Big business allies like the Chamber of Commerce teamed with big labor interests like the AFL-CIO to attempt to force it through to final passage.
The bill was introduced in April 2013 to much fanfare in the media and cheers from the political class in Washington. Conventional beltway wisdom would have had most Americans believe the bill was supposed to pass the U.S. Senate much faster than it did, which it ultimately did in late June but only after conservatives debunked much of the talking points put forward by the Gang of Eight members.
While the bill actually did pass the Senate thanks to a rushed last-minute process by Reid and a fig leaf amendment from Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), the appearance of popular support for granting any legal status to any illegal alien was shredded weeks before the Gang of Eight bill saw a final vote in the Senate.
Conservative workhorse Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) worked with Tea Partiers like Cruz, Lee, and Paul to diminish the establishment-created appearance of support for comprehensive immigration reform. Much like how gun control prospects were doomed by popular opposition to them, grassroots leaders like Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots, Leah Durant of the Black American Leadership Alliance, Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum, and many others brought the grassroots troops to the battle against amnesty. They worked alongside Sessions, Cruz, Paul, and Lee to fight to prove the establishment wrong on the intellectual battlefield of immigration policy and show the widespread American opposition to amnesty via rallies like Durant’s March for Jobs event in Washington and NumbersUSA’s and Tea Party Patriots’ various rallies around the country.
While it initially appeared that Boehner was going to cave after the Senate passed its immigration bill and allow a bill or series of bills to pass the House and go to conference committee with the Senate, the work of Sens. Sessions, Lee, Cruz, and Paul continued throughout the summer into the fall. House conservatives like Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Pete Olson (R-TX), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), and many more vocalized their opposition to any strategy by House GOP leadership to attempt to pass amnesty through the House or go to a conference committee with the Senate bill.
The conservative outrage knocked Rubio’s previously stellar polling numbers into the gutter, forcing him to reverse course and come out in public opposition to any conference committee that would be used to save the bill he helped champion through the Senate. Shortly thereafter, conservatives forced Boehner and the rest of House GOP leadership–save for House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is in the process of writing an amnesty bill at this time–came out in public opposition to any conference committee on immigration.
While the issue is far from dead–given the well-financed lobbyists driving for amnesty, and the political leadership pushing for it from both parties–the fact that no amnesty has passed the Congress whatsoever in 2013 is, as USA Today’s D.C. Bureau Chief Susan Page said, nothing short of an amazing victory for the Tea Party movement in America. Page said on CNN that the “biggest loser” in 2013 was “immigration reform.”
“That was the thing that was going to pass this year with the pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who are here as [illegal] aliens and that has not happened,” Page said.
After the summer’s push for amnesty faded into a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign with momentum waning, Sens. Cruz and Lee hatched their next plan: defund Obamacare.
Initially viewed by the political establishment as a pipe dream that had no chance of going anywhere, Cruz and Lee worked alongside House conservative members to organize a rebellion in the House. Conservative Republicans refused to vote for any stopgap government spending bill, a continuing resolution, that had even a single penny of funding for Obamacare. House conservatives like Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Tom Graves (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and many more rallied around Cruz’s and Lee’s message. Boehner crumpled and reluctantly agreed to pursue the defunding strategy.
Martin of Tea Party Patriots, Brent Bozell of ForAmerica, and other conservatives leaders throughout the movement toured the nation to round up grassroots support for the effort. Cruz’s political stock skyrocketed less than a year into his first term in the U.S. Senate, as he systematically led an intellectual destruction of the president’s healthcare law.
Like Paul had done for 13 hours to target Obama’s drone usage earlier in 2013, Cruz took to the Senate floor for a 21-hour speech (although technically not a filibuster) to systematically prove Obamacare’s destructive nature. Grassroots support swelled across the country. Twitter exploded with the hashtag of Cruz’s main message: #MakeDCListen. Millions of Americans expressed support for Cruz, while Washington politicians bashed him; when he returned to Texas afterwards he received a hero’s welcome. “After two months in Washington, it’s great to be back in America,” Cruz said to massive applause.
After Democrats in the Senate refused to compromise on Obamacare and Senate Republicans failed to unite behind Cruz and Lee like House Republicans did, the government shut down. Even so, shortly before the 16-day shutdown began, Democrats like Manchin had publicly said they would be willing to compromise on Obamacare enough to support a year-long delay of the law.
While the fight to defund Obamacare was, like the effort to unseat Boehner earlier in 2013, ultimately unsuccessful, it showed that the Tea Party movement runs the Congress. Nineteen Senate Republicans voted with Cruz and Lee on the key cloture vote on the funding of Obamacare, effectively abandoning their leader Mitch McConnell, who had worked against Cruz, and all of House GOP leadership worked with the Tea Party movement under pressure from the conservative grassroots.
Meanwhile, Cruz, Lee, and the rest of the Tea Party were proven right about Obamacare time and again over the subsequent weeks as the rollout of the president’s healthcare law has been an abysmal failure. Obama’s claim that Americans could keep their plans if they liked them has been proven to be PolitiFact’s “lie of the year.” Americans are losing their healthcare plans in droves, and those who have been lucky enough to keep their plans have seen spikes in their premiums. Even people who wanted to sign up for Obamacare have run into difficulty as the program’s website has crumbled and Americans’ personal information is at risk because of security flaws in healthcare.gov’s coding.
Congress rounded the year out by passing a budget deal Ryan cut with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The deal has infuriated conservatives throughout the base, and while it passed the House with a swath of GOP support–169 Republicans voted for it– Ryan systematically misled his House GOP colleagues to win their support for it, as Breitbart News has shown time and again over the course of a series of investigative pieces.
The bill actually raises spending and increases the deficit and, according to Sessions, uses Obamacare-style double counting budgeting gimmicks to make it appear fiscally responsible. It also cuts pensions of military veterans to make it appear as though it does not increase spending as much as it does, something that is likely to be the first fertile battlefield of 2014, followed shortly thereafter by a battle over amnesty that Ryan will also likely lead.
Piece by piece, Obama’s agenda was stopped dead in its tracks throughout 2013. The Tea Party movement’s effectiveness has garnered it new enemies even among those on the right, with the Chamber of Commerce and business community developing plans to attempt to eviscerate it in 2014. This list of political and policy victories does not even include the impressive cultural Tea Party wins–from A&E’s reinstatement of Phil Robertson on Duck Dynasty after originally placing him on “indefinite” hiatus under pressure from GLAAD to Brad Paisley’s and Carrie Underwood’s Country Music Awards performance of “Obamacare by Morning.”
The question moving forward is whether the Tea Party can maintain its control of the conservative message and its stance against the left’s and the establishment’s agenda. At this point, it looks like the movement is just getting started.