The Tea Party Was a Failure. Why Would the Far Left Want to Emulate It?

The far left has been pushing an idea for a while that it would be beneficial for them to adopt the methods of the Tea Party in order to gain power and promote far left ideals. But the Tea Party has largely been a failure, so this approach makes very little sense if the goal is progress toward far-left ideals.

For example, a recent Politico article has Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN) comparing the far-left movement to the Tea Party in a positive way. She is hardly to first to espouse this idea, and this article is not about her in particular, but about the idea that the Tea Party is worth emulating. From the article:

Omar embraces the comparisons between the Squad and the Tea Party. Despite the obvious philosophical differences, the models are strikingly similar: a two-term president leaves office with unfulfilled promises to the ideological core of his party’s base; that core base is galvanized by the election of the other party’s president; two years later, in that president’s first midterm election, the energy of that core base helps the out-of-power party retake control of Congress.

What remains to be seen is whether Democrats follow the comparison to its natural conclusion, with the insurgent activist wing swallowing up the party’s establishment. It’s a thought that paralyzes lawmakers like Phillips — and animates those like Omar. “We look at the negative aspects of the Tea Party and not really at the part of them that spoke to the American people, that made them feel like there were people actively fighting for them,” she says. “There’s a resemblance there. A lot of us are not that much different in our eagerness to want to come here and fight for our constituents, fight for the American ideals we believe in.”

The problem as Omar sees it — and not coincidentally, as some Tea Party conservatives saw it back in 2011 — is that many of her fellow freshmen didn’t come to Washington to fight.

“I don’t believe that tiptoeing is the way to win the hearts and the minds of the people,” she says. “I get saddened by some of my freshman colleagues who can’t understand that within their districts the idea of Medicare for All is extremely popular. The Green New Deal is a very popular idea in their districts. Making sure that we have a final fix to our broken immigration system is very popular in their districts. What they pay attention to is the rhetoric that says, ‘This is a red-to-blue district, you have to be careful, you can’t talk about these policies.’ Well, in reality, these people are like everyone else: They struggle with the cost of health care, they struggle with our broken infrastructure, they struggle with having an economy that brings them into the 21st century. And we have to be willing to have those conversations.”

I want to note that this article has a lot of parts to it that have been discredited. The author used selective quotes in parts of the article that painted Rep. Omar as anti-Obama, and she released a statement in a now-deleted tweet refuting that claim, and released audio that proved that caricature to be incorrect. So, I am not commenting on this clip as though every word is perfectly accurate, but reading the clip about comparing the Tea Party to the current far-left movement triggered a need for me to ask, “Why?”

According to the New York Times, in 2010, Tea Party candidates picked up 5 Senate seats and 38 House seats. But what were the long-term outcomes for these candidates and their goals?

All 5 Senate seats continue to be held by those Senators today. They are: Marco Rubio (FL), Rand Paul (KY), Pat Toomey (PA), Mike Lee (UT), and Ron Johnson (WI). Only 19 of the House seats continue to be held by those Representatives today. Two moved on to presumably more desirable positions: Tim Griffin became Lt. Governor of Arkansas; and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina was appointed to Trump’s cabinet. Eight of the Representatives were defeated in subsequent elections, six by Democrats, two by more moderate Republicans. Three of those candidates lost their seats after they attempted to run for higher office and lost. One candidate resigned when he was convicted of fraud. Three decided not to seek reelection. One lost a seat due to redistricting (but he is now the Attorney General of Louisiana, so a lucky step up). So, this 2010 phenomenon proved to be a fluke, a sort of last thrust of a dying political philosophy. In many cases, the hardline far right stance was not sustainable.

Of course, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency may be seen as a Tea Party success, although he was not a creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party candidates in 2016 were Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who both flopped spectacularly. Perhaps it can be said that the Tea Party laid a path that Trump waltzed in on, but as we can see when we look to policy, the Trump presidency has not brought many policy wins to the Tea Party.

The Tea Party movement was a reaction to racial resentment after Americans elected our first black president, and it gained wider support after the Obama administration and Democrat-led Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded healthcare coverage to 20 million more people. The Tea Party’s stated goals were to: Repeal the ACA, lower taxes, and reduce the national debt and federal budget deficit through decreased government spending. It has been an abject failure on all counts. The ACA is still in place and more popular than ever, with a majority wanting to work to improve on it even further. The vast majority of Americans have not seen any reduction in taxes, even after a Republican-controlled Congress passed a massive tax bill signed by the Republican president. The bill ended up being not much more than a big giveaway to the wealthy. The national debt and deficit are bigger than ever under a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress (which Democrats only partially gained control of through winning back the House in November). In fact, all of these policy failures, as well as Americans’ awakening to how much we like the ACA has led to a backlash against Republicans, conservative policy, and the promotion of white male power over the well-being of everyone else.

The Tea Party has no doubt been a failure with its stated policy objectives, but it has been successful with sowing racial resentment and fear of immigrants, phenomena that it always denied were its objectives. A look at the Tea Party website shows that it has morphed into a full-blown propaganda machine for racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. The store is full of hateful slogan t-shirts, such as, “Liberalism: moochers electing looters to steal from the producers,” which most thinking people understand means, “Liberals: People of color electing the first black president to steal from white people.”

The “Projects” section of the Tea Party website is even more telling than the main page or merchandise section. There is not a single project that aligns with the Tea Party’s stated goals of yesteryear. It has given up on the ACA, lowering taxes, and reducing the national debt and deficit. These are the current projects:

So, the Tea Party has been a failure morally, as well as with its stated policy objectives. It therefore makes little sense for people on the far left to praise the movement and seek to emulate it.

There are many people within the Democratic party who believe that the far-left backlash that started in 2016 is a response to women and people of color rising as the core influence in the party and white men feeling left out. The far left decries “identity politics” in favor of a class-based approach to solving the ails of our culture, advocating for a single-payer healthcare system, free college, and other programs that would primarily benefit white people and fail to address any systemic racism and misogyny that create the gaps we see in our culture between the prosperity and dignity of white men and everyone else. The far left denies this, but if they take the route the Tea Party took, I wonder how long it will be until they lose seats in primaries and to Republicans, fail to make progress on any policy goals, and in ten years, sell t-shirts that say, “Liberals: Corporatists using identity politics to steal from the real Americans.” Which they will of course continue to insist is not racist.

Lawyer + writer in Portland, Oregon.

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