Tea party leaders said Thursday that five years after the movement began, it remains relevant to American politics, even at a time when its legislative accomplishments are slipping and its candidates are struggling to gain traction in Republican primaries.
Members of Congress and activists who turned out for the Tea Party Patriots‘ fifth anniversary celebration, held at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, said they are still a major faction in Congress and hope to add to their limited-government faction in November.
“I am a little bit confused, I could have sworn I read in The New York Times that the tea party was dead,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who won his seat in 2012 on a tea party-backed platform and who urged his followers not to get demoralized by the exploding size of government under President Obama. “I am hopeful. I am optimistic. I am filled with the promise that we are going to turn this country around because there is a grass-roots revolution going on.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, paid a backhanded compliment to the tea party, saying she believes they still hold some sway in Washington — though she wished they didn’t.
“I think they considered it a success when they shut down the government. And I don’t think that was for the good of the nation,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “What I say to the Republicans is, ‘Take back your party. This isn’t who you are.’”
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said the movement’s influence is needed in plenty of areas. She said tea partyers will call on Congress to cut one penny of every dollar spent by the federal government, repeal Obamacare and pass a constitutional amendment that would replace the tax code with a “fair, fixed flat rate.”
“Washington may not cherish freedom at all,” Mrs. Martin said. “That is why America needs us. Our work is more vital than ever.”
But Darrell M. West, director of Governance Studies at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, said the tea party may find it hard to maintain its influence if the economy continues to improve and the national deficit continues to shrink.
“The tea party is in decline because the issues that have propelled it have abated,” Mr. West said. “There is less raw anger about government than a few years ago.”
Tea party-backed candidates are struggling to gain traction in Senate Republican primaries, and their forces on Capitol Hill have failed to follow up their 2011 legislative wins with more successes.
In the past three months, Congress has passed a budget that repealed some of the 2011 debt deal and approved a debt-limit increase that will allow the government to borrow unfettered through March 2015.
In October, House and Senate Republican leaders walked away from Mr. Cruz’s push to defund Obamacare, which led to a government shutdown and tarnished the party’s image, according to Republican pollsters.
In the 2012 elections, the tea party was unable to match its 2010 successes, and candidates claiming tea party backing are struggling against Republican Senate incumbents in South Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas.
Mr. Cruz, though, credited the grass-roots movement for helping block tighter gun control laws and elevating the national debate over the “incredible harms Obamacare is visiting on millions of Americans.”
“Right now, Obamacare is at its lowest approval rating it has ever been since the day it was signed into law,” he said.