The Tea Party movement, which was so heralded in 2009 and 2010 and played a large role in motivating voters and candidates to move to the right, is dead. It’s chief accomplishment was to elect enough Republicans to the US House of Representatives that John Boehner was elected Speaker. But make no mistake, the movement–as it was known then–is dead. And it is becoming painfully embarrassing to watch groups prop up the corpse and parade around like it was still alive–an electoral version of Weekend at Bernie’s.
The Missouri chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which–when led by Carl Bearden in 2009 and 2010–adroitly harnessed grassroots angst and helped organize voters and give them voice. Alas, Bearden has left AFP, and the organization recently held some non-ironically named “Running on Empty” rallies featuring a large inflatable gasoline pump… and little else. Attendance was anemic in Kansas City and it is not evident what, if anything, was accomplished.
The Freedom Jamboree slated for Kansas City was cancelled due to lack of interest. It was originally presented as the National Tea Party Straw Poll Convention, and guest speakers were to include Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Less than 20% of the organizer’s attendance goal was reached, and so they pulled the plug.
And now we learn from the leader of the St. Louis Tea Party, Bill Hennessy, that the August 4 Tea Party in Kiener Plaza is likewise cancelled. In his post explaining the cancellation, Hennessy allows, “other cities have had a hard time getting people enthused about rallies since last year’s election.”
Not to be outdone, the Left has hopped aboard the Tea Party train just as it is running out of steam.
Rallies in front of the St. Louis offices of Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Blunt, urging both to protect the large unwieldy entitlement program that now have the country in a financial mess, were unimpressive. Even the siege of the Wisconsin Capitol in February–a launching point for the Left’s activity–failed to achieve it’s goals. Subsequent efforts to defeat state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser were also a failure. The Left’s imitation of the Tea Party may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it isn’t bearing fruit.
While the ‘rally in the park’ model of Tea Party expression is dead, smart organizers quickly moved beyond rallies to more conventional political activism.
In St. Louis, the same Tea Party that just cancelled their rally has stayed active in local politics, offered training to serious activists regarding registering voters and even has a registered lobbyist representing them in Jefferson City. Activists from the Kansas City region likewise quickly offered training on activism, campaign management and candidacy. The Franklin County Patriots have hosted meetings with representatives, training sessions and seminars. The Missouri Precinct Project began as an effort to educate and train Missouri conservatives in increasing voter registration and turnout. Activists across the state have kept in contact through organizations such as the Missouri Conservative Coalition and sympathetic bloggers are using social media to communicate with one another and push the conservative agenda.
Some groups still choose to use the rally format of expression, but most everyone understands–except a few national groups and the Left–that those methods won’t be as successful in 2011 and 2012. In short, it’s been done. Even worse, the method may be starting to wear thin on Americans. A recent Bloomberg poll found that:
Negative attitudes about the Tea Party are growing, with 45 percent saying they have an unflattering view of the political movement, the highest level since the poll first asked the question in March 2010. Among independents, 50 percent view the Tea Party unfavorably.
Successful activists are starting to look more and more like the formal, professional organizations that they resisted in 2009 and 2010. And that is a good thing. While the Tea Party as an event may be dead, the grassroots spirit that motivated it is alive and well in its many different iterations.