About that TEA Party…

My “10 from 10” post this morning regarding the 9/12 Rally back in 2009 got me to pondering where the movement has gone in the intervening years.

If you’ve been a reader around here for a long time, you may recall that I covered a significant number of TEA Party-related groups that sprung up in the local area over the next couple years. Not only did we have the TEA Parties themselves that went on in both 2009 and 2010, but also groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Wicomico Society of Patriots. They went on for a couple of years but essentially died off from a lack of interest. (On the other hand, we still have the Worcester County TEA Party and 9-12 Delaware Patriots.)

Having been involved to a limited extent with the Wicomico groups, I can tell you that some of the players who remain active have gone “establishment” to the extent they remain active in the local Republican Party. Three of those most heavily involved have served on the Central Committee – unfortunately, that’s the only election where some of the TEA Party leaders have found success. While many in the area take TEA Party values to heart, they seem to vote for the names they know.

This erosion of the brand is also reflected on a national level. I used to write quite a bit about the TEA Party Patriots and expressed hope that the TEA Party Express would bring some of its star power to the region. In the last few years, though, the national movement has suffered from infighting as well as a concerted media effort to impugn the brand. I don’t hear nearly as much from the group these days, as their function has by and large been superseded by SuperPACs that fight for specific candidates or causes.

If you consider the high point of the TEA Party as the 2010 election, where the political landscape dramatically shifted in a more conservative direction in the wake of two consecutive leftward shifts as well as the adoption of an unpopular Obamacare entitlement program, then the nadir came two years later with Barack Obama’s re-election. A conspiracy theorist could point out that the 2010 election results put the Obama campaign on high alert, meaning they pulled out all the stops to ensure re-election with a little help from a compliant media. But one could counter by noting the movement wasn’t strong enough to topple frontrunner Mitt Romney and they shot themselves in the foot by staying home on Election Day. (As it was, though, Romney did get more votes than John McCain did in 2008.)

So while you can credit TEA Party principles for winning the day in 2014, the actual movement itself seems to be receding to a low tide. Since TEA is an acronym for “taxed enough already” it’s been pointed out by the Left that taxes really aren’t that bad, at least in comparison to the rates in place for administrations from Hoover to Carter. (This is a neat little chart to see the differences.) Ronald Reagan dropped rates twice: from 70% to 50% in 1982 and eventually down to 28% with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. It had been over 50 years since the top rate was less than 50%.

But that only considers income tax. Certainly as a 100-year body of work our current rates are on the low side, but back then we didn’t have the maddening plethora of taxes and fees we do now. Some are consumption-based taxes like sales tax on goods purchased or per gallon of gasoline, while others are considered some sort of “sin” tax like additional levies on cigarettes or alcohol, a combination that Marylanders endure to a larger extent than several of their neighbors. Even speed cameras could be regarded as a sort of “sin” tax, since supposedly the only ones who pay it are the ones who are speeding well above the posted limit. (Try as they might to convince us that it’s about safety, we all know they need the Benjamins. Why else would they have to install cameras in more and more dubious “school zones”?) Nor does that consider property tax, which tends to be the preferred vehicle for raising money for the public schools. In most states where districts have taxing authority, it’s not uncommon to see a school district seek three to four additional property tax levies a decade as they strive to raise funds for buildings and operations. (Maryland is different because counties pay for their portion of school funding from their general funds, so there are no ballot issues to deal with property taxes.) To make a long story short, we still consider ourselves taxed enough already.

As far as a formal movement goes, though, for the most part we are back to where we were around 2008. There is a lot of frustration with the direction of both parties, but this time rather than a movement without a leader people are going the route of a looking for a leader for what they consider their movement – hence, political outsiders Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been ahead of the Republican field for most of this campaign. (As further proof, the other side is still believed to be behind Hillary Clinton.) Carson is cast as the Godly, principled man who would quietly and reverently lead our nation in need of healing, while Trump comes across as the brash general who would kick butt and take names, restoring America to its top of the heap status.

Conversely, those who are conservative but came up through the standard political channels have fallen out of favor this cycle. In any other cycle, we would look at governors like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or Bobby Jindal as frontrunners – instead, all three are out of the race. In terms of political resumes, the front-runners on both sides have even less to go on than Barack Obama did, and that’s saying something.

So it’s hard to tell where the TEA Party trail runs cold. I think a number of them have coalesced behind Donald Trump despite the fact The Donald is not a movement conservative. One recent rumor is that a Trump/Cruz ticket is in the works, which would perhaps appease the true believers. Trump’s success has belied the predictions of TEA Party leaders that he will be a flash in the pan.

But it appears the days of rallies like 9/12 are behind us. Such a pity.

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