A day after highlighting a column from Michael Barone that focused on the Tea Party’s staying power, today this forum presents an alternative viewpoint. Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute argues for National Review Online readers that the Tea Party movement’s fortunes have declined to the extent that it has moved away from its libertarian basis.
… [T]here is also a more fundamental issue at play here: Is the Tea Party still the Tea Party?
Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare.
Social issues were not part of the platform. In fact, Jenny Beth Martin, leader of the Tea Party Patriots told the New York Times, “When people ask about [social issues], we say, ‘Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well.’ We have to be diligent and stay on message.”
In an April 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll, barely 14 percent of Tea Party supporters said social issues were more important to them than economic issues.
As a result, the group was able to build a broad coalition of economic conservatives — traditional Republicans, of course, but also libertarians, and fiscally conservative socially tolerant suburbanites who had drifted away from the GOP in recent years. In national surveys, roughly 40 percent of Tea Party supporters once described themselves as libertarian or libertarian-leaning.
These disparate groups might have disagreed about whether Adam and Steve should be able to get married, but they agreed that both Adam and Steve were overtaxed and being spent into bankruptcy by an out-of-control federal government.
But the Tea Party has drifted away from its strict economic-conservative origins. Yes, opposition to Obamacare and government spending remain priorities. But increasingly issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and immigration have become the tail that wags the dog.