Joseph Cotto, 9/1/2015 [Archive]

Is Anybody Still Talking About the Tea Party?

By Joseph Cotto

Just two years ago, the Tea Party all but assumed full control of the Republican brand, both in terms of influencing politicians and informing public perceptions. Its heroes were, among other people, talking head Glenn Beck, think tank FreedomWorks and financiers David and Charles Koch.

At a glance, the pressing issues were free trade, protecting "freedom of speech" by knocking down campaign donation regulations, cutting government programs like Medicare and Social Security, repealing Obamacare, along with 'securing the border' while still having high levels of legal immigration. Illegal alien amnesty was a divisive issue for Tea Partiers, with the sugar daddies generally supporting it while more common folk stood in opposition.

Today, an entirely different story unfolds. The GOP is under Donald Trump's dominion. He has captivated no shortage of Tea Partiers, or perhaps former ones, with plans of trade protectionism and placing long-overdue scrutiny on America's corrupt campaign finance process.

Trump refrains from discussions of ending Medicare or Social Security, has introduced a stellar plan for not only preventing illegal alien amnesty, but deporting unlawful immigrants already here, and wants to find a replacement for Obamacare both affordable and cognizant of truly unfortunate folks who can't provide for themselves.

As a devout sociopolitical realist, Trump is the candidate I've long been waiting for.

So, why did Tea Party popularity come crashing down? Many Tea Partiers never seemed to care much for those who have opposing ideas about public policy. This caused major troubles not only in Congress and various state houses across the country, but the Republican apparatus.

The federal government shut down in late 2013 because rightists in the Republican-dominated House refused to pass a bill which supported Obamacare. Congressional Democrats took advantage of this by not considering any legislation that might have weakened Obamacare.

Essentially, the Tea Party's bluff was called. The results spoke for themselves. Nonetheless, Tea Partiers seemed undeterred.

"The Republican leadership in Washington was pushed into this fight," claimed Tea Party pundit Judson Phillips in a Washington Times Communities article, published during the fortunately brief shutdown era. "They did not like it.House Speaker John Boehner....had already worked out a plan to surrender with style."

He later remarked that "(a)ll the Tea Party has to do is leave the GOP and the GOP will quickly be relegated to the status of the 'Rent is too damn high' Party."


The Tea Party became too extreme; its satisfaction derived not from legislating, but obstructionism. Still, the party represented the frustrations of a large swath of people who correctly believed that politicians, political operatives, and pundits really did not care about interests of ordinary Americans. The Tea Partiers saw that a huge disconnect had formed between politicians and the overwhelming majority of people voting for them.

Trump has brilliantly managed to address this righteous anger. Unlike with the Tea Party, however, he is bringing an irritated public's attention to issues that directly impact the quality of life in modern America. Rather than focusing on 'liberation' by adopting libertarian trade policies that sink our labor market or chanting 'freedom' as special interests corrupt politicians, Trump is educating the people about how the system truly works, along with how it can be made better.

When all is said and done, the Tea Party outlived its usefulness. This is not to suggest it was formed for negative purposes. Indeed, the group's founding goal was smaller, more responsible government whether it be at city hall or on Capitol Hill. Over time, though, it became rudderless, as the lion's share of mass movements do.

Thank heavens Trump came along to build a movement of his own.

Had Tea Partiers abandoned Republican politics entirely, they would have likely found no more success than other third parties since Reconstruction.

The Democrats came perilously close to being set for long-term one-party rule. While the GOP coalition would spend its efforts rebuilding, Democratic forces would sweep elections of every stripe, creating a country by and large no longer competitive for Republican candidates. Call this nightmare the 'California treatment'.

That is something which our nation cannot afford — literally.


Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

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