A new Pew Research Center survey shows support for the Tea Party has declined both nationally and in the districts represented by the 60 House members of the Tea Party Caucus. Much of this can be attributed to the natural falloff in enthusiasm during a non-election year, but it may also be a sign of disillusionment with their representation in Washington.
One out of 5 Americans said they agree with the Tea Party movement, 27 percent disagree and half have no opinion. The positives and negatives are reversed from the wave election of 2010 that gave Republicans control of the House. In Tea Party districts, support fell from a high of 33 percent a year ago to 25 percent now
Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney suggested this may reflect disappointment with voting records. “If you ran as a Tea Party candidate, but got up here and drank the water and didn’t vote consistently with the Tea Party principles, I think that might undermine the credibility of the brand,” the South Carolina Republican said in an interview with The Washington Times. “People will be less likely to have continued faith in the Tea Party if they thought it had achieved nothing, or very little.” For example, 35 of 60 Tea Party Caucus members voted for the budget-busting debt-ceiling deal in August.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, put some blame on the House GOP leadership for negotiating with the Senate and White House before consulting caucus members. “Democrats are the enemies of the solution,” he told The Washington Times in an interview. “Making deals with the enemies of your problem just makes you complicit.” He also said that the leadership burned the freshman class by forcing them early in the year to vote for a continuing resolution that failed to cut the promised $100 billion.
It’s natural for hard-working Tea Party goers to take a break before election season heats up again (after all, they have jobs). Second-term Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer blamed the numbers on mud-slinging on both sides. “The liberals are characterizing the Tea Party folks as out of touch and extremist,” the Missouri Republican told The Washington Times. “And the Wall Street protesters on the left have been taken over by a bunch of hoodlums and thugs, and their ideas are being denigrated as well. I think as time goes by, each group picks up enough detractors that it picks off some of its members.”
Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Tea Party is very well organized and built around clear, coherent and articulable principles. The millions of members of the Tea Party, like any large group, are experiencing the growing pains natural to a new movement as it transitions into a legitimate political force. Many of them expected Washington to change on a dime. They learned the establishment isn’t so easily moved. Expect a resurgence when campaign season swings into high gear.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.