“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” In adapting that old proverb, Oscar Wilde, of course, was not referring to the left’s clumsy attempts to emulate the tea party. But he may as well have been.
The political left is still catching its breath after a staggering and unexpected defeat in November’s election. The November defeat was a cataclysmic moment of reckoning for the left, because the two leading presidential candidates posited two starkly different visions for the future. Hillary Clinton, on the one hand, offered more of the same - more government heavy-handedness, more ObamaCare, more of the same flawed ideas of the Obama years.
And then there was Donald Trump - a political wrecking ball, unafraid of obliterating Barack Obama’s liberal legacy. In choosing Donald Trump, Americans did not merely reject Hillary Clinton; they rejected the liberal view of government, of Washington, of progress, of prosperity, of taxes, and of the U.S. Constitution. Hillary Clinton did not merely speak for liberalism or represent it; she was, in a much larger sense, the full embodiment of unadulterated liberalism. And American voters’ response was a firm, “No, thanks.”
Which brings us to today, and why the left is so disconsolate.
This past Saturday, less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump was sworn into office, more Americans protested in Washington, D.C. than showed up for the president’s inauguration the day before, and more protested in cities across the country and around the world. The media and the left immediately declared that the protests mark the emergence of a new political movement - the left’s own tea party.
Of course, there’s an obvious difference between the tea party movement and the Women’s March: The Women’s March was organized in opposition to the very fact of “President Trump,” while the tea party organized in opposition to the policies embraced by President Obama. Mr. Trump hadn’t even been sworn in, let alone issued an objectionable policy decree, before the left was busily organizing its opposition march; the tea party, by contrast, organized months after President Obama had been sworn in, only after he announced policies we opposed.
The left’s newfound tea party has a major advantage the tea party movement did not have at its grassroots inception: Big Money. At the same time that this would-be new tea party assails wealth and attacks many of Mr. Trump’s nominees on the sole basis that they have wealth, MoveOn and other organizations rely on the money of billionaire George Soros. The tea party movement, by contrast, has always been truly grassroots. We don’t have wealthy financiers calling the shots. We were truly grassroots-driven when we began. Unlike the support the liberal protesting organizations received to orchestrate their Women’s Marches, the tea party movement never had 50 organizations sending emails, recruiting and paying for our events. I know because I was struggling along with all the other organizers to pay for the A/V system, staging and jumbotrons in Atlanta when we first began organizing. We still are grassroots-driven to this day. The grassroots still set the direction, determine our stand on issues, and plan major actions for our organization every Sunday night on our Nationwide Leadership Council calls.
As the leader of the nation’s largest grassroots tea party organization (Tea Party Patriots) and one of the original founders of the movement, I would like to offer some advice and a few thoughts for the left. Think of it as a simple, five-point primer, of sorts, as you determine where to go next after the marches.
1. Be for the rule of law. At Tea Party Patriots, we have consistently obeyed the law and have never had to tell our supporters not to be violent. They knew that instinctively. We do not break laws, smash others’ property or leave a mess behind for others to clean up when we protest.
2. Respect the system, even as you work to change things. We not only respect the system, but we also love our way of government. We love it even when we do not like the results. We work within the system (constitutional government) to change the results. The whole reason the tea party exists is because we love our country so much.
3. Anger isn’t a principle. Sure, anger is a great motivator when you want to get people to join together and wear silly (vulgar) pink hats and shout obscenities. But anger is an emotion, not a principle. Tea party supporters get angry when Congress ignores the American people or tramples on the Constitution. Like the left, we get frustrated. Over the course of our movement, we have learned how to translate our frustrations into effective solutions.
4. Be for something. For those watching the Women’s March on television or in the streets, it was clear it was a protest in search of a purpose. What were they protesting? Based on the signs they carried, they were protesting the election results, democracy, capitalism, the U.S. Constitution, marriage, women’s “oppressive” biology, oil, climate change, and sundry other grievances. In short, they were protesting against, and about, everything. Lost in the cacophony of messages was what the protesters stood for, or even if there were such a thing. In our eight years of existence, the tea party movement has never lost sight of the enduring principles on which we stand. We are for personal freedom, economic freedom and a debt-free future.
5. Don’t lose sight of where you are going. On Sunday night, MoveOn hosted an “emergency” webinar, and invited more than 10,000 people to come together to discuss “what’s next.” It was a revealing moment. Just one day after garnering worldwide media attention for their massive protests, the liberal groups were already floundering and wondering where to go next.
For perspective, Tea Party Patriots has a legislative agenda - what we call the Yellow Card Agenda - with our seven priority issues. We’ve maintained laser focus on these issues for the past several years, and we are looking forward to accomplishing several of them (ObamaCare repeal, notably) this year. The secret to our success? We have had a plan and a roadmap, developed with input and approval from our grassroots supporters. MoveOn’s “emergency” session to determine where to go next speaks volumes about the left’s lack of a plan. The truth is that the left’s protests over the weekend were about looking backward and voicing (screaming, really) their objections about November’s election. For all of their talk about progress, the protests made clear that this new undertaking is wholly retrograde and not looking ahead.
Rallies, protests and marches are important organizing opportunities. I know. I’ve organized plenty of them myself. But when you get right down to it, movements are always about “what’s next.” And so far, the left doesn’t know what that will be.
Jenny Beth Martin is president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.