The Rise and Fall of the ‘Tea Party’

Let’s do a quick review of what we’ve been talking about for the past four weeks. It’s my argument that the political left gets the job done when it comes to outreach to the uninformed—and the political right fails miserably. Worse, Republicans and conservatives don’t even know what it is they’re failing to do.

The political left in American controls the big societal institutions that convey information: the K-college education system, the old but dominant media, and pop culture. The political right has a few things but they’re mostly vehicles for conveying information to the “choir”: talk radio, some of the shows on the Fox News Channel, and new media outlets found online.

That’s a big mismatch of resources. But I also argue that a latent potential exists among Republicans and conservatives and their allied organizations ranging from local political party committees to think tanks and issue advocacy organizations to the rise of new activism found in the various tea party and patriot type groups.

I call it latent potential—here’s the definition of latent:

(Of a quality or state) existing but not yet developed or manifest; hidden; concealed.

The American political right is an idle army. Many Republicans and conservatives who think they’re not hidden or concealed are fooling themselves. Again, let’s bring in my favorite quote on the topic:

The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

(You can learn more about that quote here.)

I know a lot of Republicans and conservatives who believe their efforts are well developed and wonderfully manifest. Why they think that is a mystery to me when we have never had more low information voters than we do today. It’s either willful self-delusion or flat out ignorance. How do these folks think the public receives information coming from conservatives? From a taxpayer paid teacher or professor? From a sitcom or hit movie? From some honest reporter?

Right after Obama got elected he passed his outrageous “stimulus” bill with the help of the Dem-controlled Congress. CNBC’s Rick Santelli then delivered his famous rant and the “tea party” was born. For many frustrated Americans it was the first time they’d found a way to engage the political arena that didn’t involve getting involved with the tainted Republican Party.

The following two August recesses were tumultuous for members of congress who held town hall meetings, and then in November 2010 the Democrats lost control of the U.S. House. Tea party activists rightly claimed credit for ending Nancy Pelosi’s Speakership. Many people expected a similar result two years later but Mitt Romney received even fewer votes than John McCain did and Obama was reelected.

Why didn’t the tea party follow up their ’10 victory with one in ’12? One reason is because more people are motivated to vote in presidential years than in off-years. With more voters—the task of outreach is more of a challenge.

Another reason is because by the time the 2012 election rolled around the tea party “brand” had been become almost as bad as the Republican brand in the eyes of many Americans. How can that have happened? Because just like the Republican Party has failed in its job of shaping its own image, tea partiers were subjected to the same big liberal communication forces and polling data showed that political independents had soured on the upstart political movement.

How can this be? Isn’t the tea party just made up of regular people attempting to act in their role as “we the people” to influence elections and policy makers? Yes, but like Republicans, the tea party hasn’t been writing the narrative–that is done by those who dominate the flow of information. And that’s what we’ve been writing about in this column for over a decade and focusing specifically on for the past month.

Let’s continue this tomorrow.