The left chortled on Monday after learning the results of a new Gallup poll showing an all-time low for Tea Party support. According to Gallup, just 17 percent of Americans say they support the Tea Party, with 24 percent calling themselves opponents and 54 percent saying they have no opinion.
The poll’s high water mark for the Tea Party stood at 32 percent in November 2010. Oddly, the drop-off has been steepest among conservative Republicans, who have dropped from 63 percent support to 42 percent support from 2010 to 2015. Moderate or liberal Republicans never really supported the Tea Party; just 32 percent supported the Tea Party as of 2010, and that number has now dropped to 17 percent.
The establishment Republican Party went to war with the Tea Party, over and over again.
Unlike the Democratic Party, which has a useful habit of coopting the left’s hardcore popular grassroots movements, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, the right has an unfortunate habit of disassociating from its popular uprisings. Almost from the outset, Republican insiders seemed uncomfortable with the Tea Party movement, believing it to be a reflection of anger that could blow back on them.
The Republican higher-ups flirted with the Tea Party long enough to win victory in November 2010, then promptly foisted on the Tea Party a 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who invented Barack Obama’s central big government plank, Obamacare; blasted Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an outsider hell-bent on destroying the possibility of presidential victory for opposing Obamacare in 2013; and assured donors that only a softer tack on illegal immigration could open the possibility of Republican victory in 2016.
In 2014, the Tea Party once again showed up to vote in large numbers for Republicans, and Republicans catered to them, promising to end President Obama’s executive amnesty. The result: another historic victory. As soon as the election ended, however, Republicans recanted and funded Obama’s program, as well as Planned Parenthood.
Most recently, after Tea Party members moved to oust Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), establishment types lamented Boehner’s fall, then tried to replace him with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Only when the Freedom Caucus, a Tea Party-infused subset of the Republican caucus, finally settled on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) were the establishment gods appeased.
For now. The next step in the establishment battle is Ryan’s deification, an attempt to force consolidated support behind him rather than behind a conservative agenda. The incoming Speaker has nothing to say, apparently, about a new deal with the Obama White House guaranteeing a debt limit increase and budget for the next two years, taking Republicans beyond the 2016 election. The deal would reportedly raise spending across the board, including funding of Planned Parenthood, funding for Medicare, and reauthorization of the crony Export-Import Bank.
And yet Ryan is nowhere to be seen in these negotiations, according to The Hill; he’s content to let Boehner do his dirty work, picking up accolades for his leadership all the way.
The Tea Party launched in an attempt to take the country back from overarching government. As such, its popularity ran both broad and deep among conservatives. Then the Republican Party began chipping away. When the two worked together in tandem, as in 2010 and 2014, the Republicans won; then, after every battle, the Republican establishment labeled the Tea Party a bunch of kooks, demanded full control, and proceeded to alienate the supporters who helped drive the Party to victory.
There is a reason that Romney bewailed the rise of the Tea Party-friendly alternative media while discussing politics with Obama operative David Axelrod: “There are more and more who feel they are insurgent than towards the center of the party…I think that divisiveness is one of the things that has led to Washington having such a hard time getting things done.”
The result: the siphoning away of energy from the only grassroots conservative movement in three decades.
Ejected from the levers of power by the Republican establishment, Tea Partiers have moved away from their disorganized campaign of providing informal support to Republicans more broadly, and have instead infiltrated into grassroots-friendly presidential campaigns from Donald Trump to Ben Carson to Cruz. In the process, their population has purportedly shrunk, but their power has not waned.
Look for it to wax again as the presidential race moves forward. The Tea Party was born in dissatisfaction with intransigent government and willful politicians. They may have bled away into the woodwork, but they’re not gone permanently. When the time comes, the Tea Party will be back with a vengeance, to the evident discomfort of all the same Republican establishment members who disliked it in the first place.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.