I clearly remember the first Tea Party rally in South Carolina back in April, 2009. President Obama had been in office three months, deficits were stacking-up, and the country was deeply divided. The Obama Administration was rapidly pushing its agenda of bigger government, less freedom, and policies that undermined life, liberty, and individual choice. The American people responded overwhelmingly. At our event in Greenville, over 10,000 South Carolinians turned-out for a peaceful protest of egregious government overreach. The antipathy was bi-partisan; Tea Partiers were tired of politicians in both parties mortgaging the future to pay for short-term political promises.
The Tea Party movement of 2009-2010 may well have been the most authentic grassroots movement in modern American history. Millions of people across the country found their voice, and stood-up to out-of-control government policies. These protests led to the largest U.S. House majority since the 1920s being elected in 2010, and to the majority of statehouses becoming GOP controlled. Here in South Carolina, Nikki Haley, now U.N. Ambassador, became governor by defeating a sitting Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Congressman all because she supported the Tea Party and resonated with its rhetoric.
The Tea Party was successful because it tapped into the soul of America. America is an inherently Judeo-Christian, center-right nation that supremely values liberty. When government programs and policies threaten that liberty, and personal autonomy, the American people respond. During the Tea Party movement, millions of soccer moms and storekeepers, corporate executives and auto mechanics came-out to confront threats to the American way of life. Protesters weren’t being paid, and props weren’t financed by George Soros, Inc. The movement was authentic because the values were deeply held.
The political Left was paying attention during the Tea Party wave, and now they are seeking to create their own movement. Groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Code Pink, etc, are trying to cobble-together a coalition of causes to thwart the Republican agenda the same way the Tea Party put Republicans on the path to retaking both chambers of Congress and the White House. They will fail. They will fail because while the Tea Party was appealing to American values and middle America, the liberal “tea party” is trying to pull an already too-far-left Democratic Party even further to the left. Instead of making liberal values mainstream again, as the Tea Party did for conservative principles, this movement is likely to further rupture the Democratic Party.
It is undeniable that the conservative movement is undergoing a transformation, and that true “three legged stool” conservatives, like the author of this article, will have to work hard to maintain the Republican coalition of social, fiscal, and national security conservatives. It is also true, however, that the conservative coalition, at this point in our political history, is far more unified than the all-out civil war that has engulfed the Democratic Party. Moderate democrats are quickly becoming extinct, and the party of JFK has become the party of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Al Franken. The emerging movement to create a liberal tea party is pushing an agenda of more government spending, more nationalization of our economy, outright hostility to religious values and liberty, and that opposes free thought and expression. These are not values that will resonate with American voters.
The Tea Party movement of 2009-2010 succeeded, and the liberal “tea party” movement of 2017 will fail, for the exact same reason: America remains a center-right country that values personal liberty and personal responsibility. The longer liberal protesters fire-bomb storefronts and trash the venues of their protests, the clearer the contrast with the conservative movement in 2009-2010 will become. There is no replicating a liberty-driven Tea Party movement with a secular-socialist scream fest. Americans will not buy-in.