TYRRELL: Whither the Tea Party?

No longer rallying, movement is burrowing into politics at all levels

All is bleak. All is woe. I speak of the Tea Party movement, the movement of 2009 and 2010 that was the hot news story of those years and led to the Republican rout of the Democrats in 2010. Now the Tea Party movement is, according to media reports, in decline.

Was it extremist? Was it racist? Distinguished Americans such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton said it was. Yet their evidence kept falling apart when it came under objective scrutiny, as so many of their hoaxes over the years have fallen apart: Tawana Brawley, the 1979-80 Atlanta killings supposedly committed by local cops who spent their leisure hours in the Ku Klux Klan. I cannot think of another couple of hucksters who have adduced so much evidence of heinous behavior by the American majority only to have the evidence go poof! The Tea Party movement is neither extremist nor racist. In fact, it is what Americans look like when they suddenly become alive to politics: somewhat amateurish, terrifically enthusiastic and eventually quite serious about practicing the political arts at the local level, in Madison, Wis.; Waco, Texas; and Tucson, Ariz. - all locales far, far away from Washington, D.C. But I have reason to suspect that the Tea Partyers may return to the nation’s capital after the November elections. Read on.

The Washington Post related an interesting finding in another dolorous story with hints of an obituary about the Tea Partyers. According to a Washington Post/ABC News Poll, 44 percent of the American people supported the Tea Partyers, 43 percent opposed them. I saw polls like that going back to 2009. The intensity of feeling against them augurs ill for the Tea Partyers, but that does not tell us much. The newness and controversial nature of the Tea Party movement has passed. Its members are not in the news much today. There are other stories making headlines. The 44 percent-43 percent divide among Americans remains, though the Tea Partyers get few headlines. Why?

Ned Ryun, founder and president of American Majority, a nuts-and-bolts training operation with its roots deep in the Tea Party movement, says the movement is pretty much beyond the mass-demonstration stage in development and has gone local. Its members are learning the art of politics and running for the school board, city council and state and national office. They are trying to replace people whom they perceive as tired old hands, such as 80-year-old Sen. Richard G. Lugar in Indiana, with younger, more vigorous candidates for office. They are learning to play politics seriously, and their goal is reform: balance budgets, eliminate debt and return to the Constitution.

One of the oddest twists to the Tea Party story is the comparison with the Occupy movement. Some utterly ideologized observers of the political scene view the often deranged, clearly in decline Occupiers as members of a left-wing equivalent of the Tea Party movement, and they see these pathetic waifs as somehow auspicious - the 2012 equivalent of the civil rights movement or the peace movement of yore. Yet the Occupiers make hardly any effort at engaging in politics at the local level. Mr. Ryun says his people are, and he has an active training program around the country to prove it.

He has been crisscrossing the country in recent years, running seminars and other training sessions. They do not attract a lot of attention in the press, as demonstrations and other protest actions do, but they matter more. They can effect real change in politics. The American Majority has trained more than 20,000 recruits as activists and candidates. In the past two to three years, American Majority has held 570 training sessions across America on how to be effective politically both in government operations and in running for office. From those 570 sessions have come approximately 2,000 candidates.

So maybe we ought not write off the Tea Party movement just now. The Tea Partyers are not getting the press the Occupiers are with their Defecate for Peace movements and their public masturbation, but the Tea Partyers are aiming at office in November.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of the forthcoming “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson).

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