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As tea partiers shake up GOP politics, what’s the tea party all about?
Q: Is the tea party a political party? independents, the tea party movement
A: No. The name plays on the 1773 largely has inserted itself into Republican
Boston Tea Party, when colonists protest- Party politics. In some cases its candidates
ed British efforts to tax tea imports and toppled GOP incumbents in primaries, such
dumped tea into Boston Harbor. The mod- as Sens. Bob Bennett in Utah and Lisa
ern tea party movement brought together Murkowski in Alaska. In Kentucky, the tea
Americans who were angry, among other BY MARGARET TALEV party movement helped Rand Paul win the
McClatchy Newspapers GOP nomination for the open Senate seat
things, about tax dollars going to federal
bailouts of banks, automakers and mort- over the Republican favored by Senate
gage holders, as well as massive stimulus
hen the tea party movement rose in early 2009, it Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
spending in the wake of the financial cri- seemed more a sign of the times — a backlash to Both parties are waiting to see whether the
sis. When the movement first began, some the recession and President Barack Obama’s tea party movement ultimately empowers
tea party activists mailed tea bags to mem- or hobbles the Republican Party.
election — than a lasting force. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chair-
bers of Congress to express their anger.
The movement has outlived many expectations. man of the Republican Governors
Q: What’s their platform? Thousands of tea party groups have sprung up across the Association, said that if the movement
A: There’s no universal platform. country, and tea party activists are having a significant had run independent candidates and split
Common themes among tea party groups the conservative vote, “that would have
impact on shaping Republican primaries across the country. been far, far worse for us” than challeng-
are deficit reduction, opposition to spend-
ing “earmarks,” reducing the size of gov- How the candidates they favor will fare against ing establishment Republicans in primar-
ernment, eliminating mandates and Democrats in November, and how their victorious candi- ies. “We welcome them in our primaries,”
repealing Obama’s health care expansion. dates perform in office, could determine how big a force he said. “I am glad that the tea party
In recent months, there have been some movement recognized that the Republican
the tea party movement can be going forward, including in Party is where they ought to be.”
efforts to rally tea party activists against
global warming policy. Social policy has the 2012 presidential election.
not been central to the tea party move- Here’s a question-and-answer primer on the tea party
ment, although there have been some movement. Tea party people
efforts, including Fox commentator Glenn Profile of Americans who support the
Beck’s recent rally in Washington, to con- populist tea party movement:
(All U.S. adults)
nect religion to the tea party movement. Santelli of CBNC on Feb. 19 delivered a And a Seattle-based blogger in February
commentary from the Chicago Mercantile 2009 organized an anti-stimulus protest. Republican 49% (28%)
Q: Who started the tea party move- Exchange that went viral on the Internet, in The tea party moniker took off after Independent 43% (40)
ment and when? which he ranted against federal mortgage what became known as the Santelli rant. Democrat 8% (32)
A: There’s no one founder. The move- refinancing, said the federal government The movement swelled as April 15, 2009,
ment came together in January and Conservative 70% (40)
was rewarding irresponsible consumers, “tax day” protests were organized, and
February of 2009, as President Obama took Moderate 22% (38)
compared the U.S. to Cuba, and proposed a activists campaigned against Obama’s
office. Rick Liberal 7% (21)
“Chicago Tea Party” to dump derivative health care overhaul before turning atten-
securities in Lake Michigan. tion to the 2010 elections. Men 55% (49)
Conservative talk radio hosts already 45%
were condemning the proposed fed- Q: Who’s in charge, and where Women (51)

eral stimulus, tagged at $787 does the movement get Income less
billion when it passed. A its money? than $30,000 19% (25)
stock trader in January A: There’s no one $30,000-49,000 26% (25)
had posted a message leader. Umbrella $50,000 or more 55% (50)
on the Web urging groups such as the
that tea bags be Tea Party Patriots, and Non-Hisp. white 79% (75)
mailed to lawmak- social networking sites Non-Hisp. black 6% (11)
ers in protest including Teabook.org, link Other 15% (15)
of federal activists who are members of Source: Gallup/USA Today poll of 1,033 adults, March
26-28, 2010; margin of error: +/-4 percentage points
bailouts. hyper-local tea party organiza- Graphic: Judy Treible © 2010 MCT
tions. It also has become a cot-
tage industry for campaign con-
sultants, T-shirt makers and con- Q: Which November elections with
vention organizers. tea-party backed candidates are worth
Sal Russo, a California-based watching?
Republican political strategist behind A: There are dozens. Among the most-
the Tea Party Express, says there are watched races will be the Nevada Senate
roughly 4,000 tea party groups in race pitting tea-party backed Republican
the United States and hundreds Sharron Angle against Senate Democratic
being formed in other countries. Leader Harry Reid; and Rand Paul’s bid
Some pre-existing advocacy for the Senate in Kentucky.
groups that push fiscal conser- Both Angle and Paul have made rookie
vatism or pro-business agendas, missteps and controversial statements on
such as FreedomWorks, led by issues ranging from gun rights to affirma-
former GOP House Majority tive action. Their bids in states where
Leader Dick Armey, have been Republicans should be strong this year
active in organizing tea party may be seen as tests of whether the tea
members. party movement is helping or hurting the
Financing for the move- Republican Party.
ment comes from a variety of In Colorado, several Republicans have
private sources, from grass- yanked their support for the party’s guber-
roots small-dollar donations natorial nominee, tea-party backed Dan
to backing from wealthy Maes, after several campaign problems
business leaders including the including misstatements about his work
billionaire Koch oil family. history. Tea party activists also could play
important roles in Senate and gubernatori-
Q: What are Glenn Beck’s al races in big states such as California,
and Sarah Palin’s roles? Colorado and Florida, as well as in many
A: Neither is a formal leader of a spe- House races across the country.
cific tea party group, but both have active- “The big question that needs to be
ly courted and built fans among tea party answered, and will be answered on
audiences. Beck organized the recent Election Day, is whether or not they nom-
“Restoring Honor” rally in Washington inated candidates who are, in fact, too
that drew thousands of tea party activists. conservative for general election voters,”
Tea party Palin spoke there at his invitation, as she said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the
activists were has at other rallies, including one in nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Is
Boston earlier this year. Palin also has there going to be some
among the
backed several winning candidates with buyers’ remorse and
thousands who tea party support in congressional and rethinking, and does
gathered for a gubernatorial contests this year. the party survive that?
On the other hand, if
“Restoring Honor”
rally Aug. 28, 2010,
Q: How do establishment they’re successful in
Republicans and Democrats view the places like Nevada
in Washington. tea party movement? and Kentucky, then
A: With a sense of apprehension and you have to call them
curiosity. Rather than run candidates as a force in 2012.”

O L I V I E R D O U L I E RY / A B AC A / M C T