Are Ideological Witch Hunts Killing the Tea Party?

Are Ideological Witch Hunts Killing the Tea Party? December 1, 2011

Remember the early days of the Tea Party?  Remember the wave of energy that swept across the conservative movement?  Confronted with the combined legislative onslaught of Obamacare, a bloated stimulus (“porkulus”) package that cost more than the Iraq war, and economy-reshaping initiatives like cap and trade, the Tea Party yanked conservatives out of defeatism and depression, reminded Americans of their constitutional heritage, and confronted our fiscal irresponsibility not just in economic terms but with cultural and moral arguments as well.

And the Left was furious.  Lies and slander spewed from the mainstream media.  Somehow, a collection of middle-aged professionals who left public spaces cleaner than when they arrived suddenly became a “violent” and “dangerous” threat to the republic.  Yes, many Tea Partiers were angry at the direction of the country, but that anger was expressed in isolated verbal outbursts at Town Halls and protests.  They simply exercised their First Amendment rights, and the intensity of their protest paled in comparison to the recent Wisconsin union battles or the Occupy marches and encampments.

Even in the face of overwhelming media invective, the Tea Party remained popular, at one point exceeding the favorability ratings of both major political parties.  In November 2010, the Tea Party triumphed, providing the energy and activism that transformed the political landscape.  A new day had arrived.

Or had it?  Even as the Tea Party hailed its great victory, signs of trouble were all around.  In some jurisdictions (Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Delaware), a dedication to ideological purity over all else resulted in nominating deeply flawed candidates.  And public opinion was beginning to turn.  By mid-2011, Tea Party popularity had turned upside-down, with significantly more Americans viewing it unfavorably.

Tea Party defenders blamed the media, and they were right — at least partly.  The invective and slander kept spewing from the Left, with labels like “extremist,” “racist,” and “violent” used virtually as talking points.  But something else was happening, something far more dangerous to the long-term health of the movement.

For many activists, the focus changed — moving away from making constitutional arguments to the American people against Obama’s excesses and towards a vicious ideological battle within the Republican party.  Peruse popular conservative websites, and you’ll see writers calling fellow conservatives “gnomes” and some of the most popular even banning dissent from their comment boards.  On talk radio, hosts are attacking other conservative candidates with unrestrained ferocity.  In a strange turn of events, a conservative can agree with a fellow conservative on every major substantive plank of conservatism and still be labeled a “RINO” if their tone isn’t angry enough or if they support a different Republican in the primary.

Simply put, this kind of conduct is annoying and infuriating to everyone who is not in the constantly-shifting “in” crowd.  And it’s happening in local venues where once-vibrant Tea Party groups are being increasingly dominated by an angry fringe that has long floated around the periphery of conservative circles.  I’ve seen Republicans who one year ago loved to talk about the Tea Party now roll their eyes whenever they get one of the incessant, incoherent emails sent by this or that local activist.

If you talk about fiscal responsibility, decreased tax and regulatory burdens, and a culture of life, you tend to unite conservatives and many, many independents.  When you tell a fellow lifetime conservative that they’re morally deficient for backing Mitt Romney or a “coward” for not advising public officials to violate the law to implement “conservative” policies (just to take two recent examples from my life), you not only alienate your allies, you look downright strange to independents.

Why bring this up?  Because the polls are moving from bad to worse, with the Tea Party now enjoying only 25% agreement in Tea Party districts.  These are the very districts most impervious to liberal media influence, the very districts often most gerrymandered to ensure a permanent conservative presence in Congress — and yet the Tea Party is at 25%?

The rise of Newt Gingrich as the “anti-Mitt” represents a serious blow to Tea Party dominance.  Conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have to be shaking their heads.  Wasn’t this the year for the “true conservative?”  Don’t their lifetime flawless conservative records count for something?  Yet in Newt Gingrich you have the very essence of the establishment Republican, a former Speaker of the House who has made millions as a quasi-lobbyist.

Obviously it’s way too early to write the Tea Party’s obituary, but that obituary is inevitable if self-proclaimed “true conservatives” continue to act like the fratricidal ideological scolds they’ve become.

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  • Larry

    What if the Tea Party is simply a milestone in “evolving” or better said “revolving” conservative activism. In its various iterations it has served to both energize and refine the GOP. Think back to The Moral Majority, followed by The Christian Coalition. While the latter was perhaps more sophisticated in its organization, both exercised enormous influence politically.

    They dramatically changed the political landscape by not only disseminating information and educating voters but by engaging enormous numbers of people who were deeply dissatisfied but lacked a vehicle for adequately expressing both the intensity of their feelings and the significance of their numbers.

    The ubiquitous voter’s guides which offered, in a remarkably digestible format, the voting records and positions of candidates were frequently derided as simplistic and worse … a litmus test for ideological purity. Many hailed them, though, as an effective tool for smoking out double tongued candidates and empowering the electorate to intentionally vote for the change they wished to see. The effect was remarkable.

    Erstwhile conservatives reluctantly but suddenly returned to their roots. Those who didn’t, often returned home … holding a pink slip in their hands. Conservatism was suddenly back at the table and at its head. All because enough citizens said “enough is enough”. Talk was no longer cheap … politicians became accountable for the variance between what they said and how they governed.

    The Tea Party is, I think, merely another such expression. Wearied by the fecklessness of career politicians and shocked by the long term effects of government expansion (and the ideology which drives it) a growing numbers of voters found themselves, once again, coalescing into a vocal and engaged voting bloc.

    It has been met variously with howls of derision as well as cheers and plaudits. The cries of foul come invariably from those who find themselves suddenly under the unwelcome scrutiny of citizens demanding better of their elected leaders. Lately, Republicans have come under scrutiny … and for good reason. Their addiction to Big Government requires them to mainline red ink with the same vigor and greed that characterizes the Left.

    Preening politicians who profess conservative bona fides while campaigning, but who govern like lords once elected find the current demands for authenticity, honesty and consistency off-putting. We are once again being treated to aspersions from those who only months ago hailed conservative activism as a lifeline, thrown just in the nick of time to a nation drowning in debt and tyranny.
    Witch hunt? Idealogues? No. Not by a long shot. Just an informed and engaged electorate who’ve realized that even small steps toward the cliff’s edge lead just as certainly to suicide as giant steps … the delay may be longer but the end is just as deadly.

    Until and unless we demand adherence to ideas and practices which assure better outcomes while preserving liberty career politicians will continue to pat us on the head while reaching into our pockets. Not only will they destroy us … they’ll make us pay for the privilege of being driven over the cliff.

    I’ll gladly join the ranks of those “ideologues” who demanded liberty while enduring British Tyranny and refuse to settle for any path which leads away, no matter how slightly, from the direction we must travel.

  • Tim Williamson

    The Tea Party, like all extremist groups on both sides of the political divide, was doomed from the start. It was a reactionary movement based on the polarization of specific elements within the Republican party that were outraged that the free-thinking American voter could be so recalcitrant as to elect a “radical leftist”, as one of my right-wing acquaintances referred to him, to the White House. Poll after poll has shown conclusively that the majority of American voters, like myself, are moderates who want a return to common sense politics, not the extremism represented by fringe elements such as the Tea Party. Where was the Tea Party during the previous administration when we had a President who spent money like a drunken sailor in a whorehouse? I am no fan of Barack Obama, but to lay the cause of our economic malaise entirely at his feet is simply disingenuous. OF COURSE all of us favor lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, we don’t need a group of sign-waving ultra-conservatives to remind us of this.

    I find it quite humorous that the Tea Party supporters are so quick to dismiss the Occupy movement when in reality you are protesting the same ideology. Occupy wants a break from the corporate welfare system which has contributed so substantially to our current economic woes, and the Tea Party wants lower personal taxes, which are so high partly because of the fact that corporate America no longer pays its fair share, and hasn’t for decades.

    R.I.P. Tea Party. You and your divisive ideology is exactly what this country DOESN’T need right now.

  • Larry

    Its funny Tim, you don’t sound like a moderate. What exactly does a moderate believe? How would you define the actions and agenda of the current president. How about the last Congress (led by Democrats). How exactly is OWS and the Tea PArty alike? How are they different?

    How exactly did Bush and the Republican’s create the current crisis … I mean exactly? What might they have done differently? How have Democrats contributed to the current crisis? What might they have done differently?

    For whom did you vote during the last presidential campaign?

  • Tim Williamson

    As I believe I stated, I favor a return to common sense policies, not the extremism which is the hallmark of the Tea Party AND certain elements on the left. I, and the majority of American voters, are tired of the incendiary rhetoric being passed off as political dialogue, again, by BOTH sides.

    How did the previous administration contribute to our current economic situation? Let’s see…a debacle of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the Department of Defense’s direct spending on Iraq totaled at least $757.8 billion, not to mention the peripheral costs at home, such as interest paid on the funds borrowed to finance the wars and a potential nearly $1 trillion in extra spending to care for veterans returning from combat through 2050. All over supposed “weapons of mass destruction”, when in reality we found what? A couple of bottle rockets?

    In the past four Presidential elections I have voted for, in descending chronological order:

    1) Cain
    2) Kerry
    3) Bush
    4) Clinton

    Not sure what this has to do with anything, other than your need to pin a “D” or an “R” beside my name so as to label me and what I believe, which is a quintessential example of what is wrong with politics in our country.

    The FACT is that the vast majority of Americans aren’t Tea Party or Occupy, but common sense. Another fact is that Barack Obama still defeats any GOP candidate you put against him in current polls. This SHOULD be enough to bring you to the realization that the American voter’s BS detector has gone off in regard to the GOP message. We don’t buy it any more than we buy the tripe coming from Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • Larry


    I assume you meant McCain. I wished to know because it’s very instructive. Additionally, I’m not sure what polls you’re referencing regarding an Obama match-up. The polls have had losing to both a generic Republican and specific Republicans for sometime. Nor do polls reveal an overwhelmingly “moderate” electorate. They reveal a center/right electorate.

    I noticed that were decidedly selective in answering my questions. Not only did you provide a rather dubious rational for Republican actions, you also failed entirely to cite any of the egregious acts of Democrats. You are also mum on Mr. Obama.

    In fact, the tone and substance of your remarks would find me wondering what at all, if anything do you find disqualifying about the DNC, President Obama or their agenda.

    BTW, what exactly is the BS in the GOP message and what is the “tripe” coming from Pennsylvania Ave. Again, specifics really would speed the conversation along Tim.

  • Tim Williamson

    I’m sorry, were we discussing the relevance of the Tea Party or my personal political beliefs?

    The most recent polls:

    vs Romney-
    RCP Avg Obama 45.9 Romney 44.4 11/8-11/22
    Rasmussen Obama 44.0 Romney 38.0 11/21-11/22

    vs Gingrich-
    RCP Avg Obama 48.7 Gingrich 43.0 11/8-11/29

    All of these are available from numerous sources on the web.

    The only poll I have seen which favored Gingrich was a FOX News (surprise!) poll from two weeks ago when he was up 45% – 43%.

    Again, you seem to want to debate MY beliefs as opposed to the subject of David French’s article, which is the relevance of the Tea Party. There is no question that there is plenty of room for blame on both sides for our current situation. Both right- and left-leaning fiscal policies implemented as far back as the 90s have contributed to the downturn. As far as Obama goes, he put forth a stimulus package so full of pork that it stunk. No argument there. And his crowning achievement is a healthcare reform act that no one wants. BUT the Republicans haven’t offered anything relevant as far as job creation or healthcare reform (and it HAS to be reformed) goes, either. And that’s the only thing that will turn the economy around: putting Americans back to work. Not healthcare reform, not deficit reduction, JOBS.

    If it makes you feel good about yourself to label me, fine…take your pick, but you are only proving my point by doing so.

    And I just looked at my voter registration card and I am registered as a Republican, BTW. But in your eyes I guess that makes me a RINO as I don’t stay in lock-step with the other marchers in the GOP clown parade.

    Also, I have neither the time nor the inclination to answer all of your questions in detail, and since we seem to be unable to stay on-topic, I will sign off.

  • Larry

    The Most recent Rasmussen polls:

    Gingrich 45%
    Obama 43%

    Generic Republican 48%
    Obama 42%

    You may want to erase the cache from your browser’s memory … its feeding you old data. As to your latest remarks, Republicans have put numerous legislative proposals on the table. They have all been detailed and substantive. They have also all been rejected. Where do you get your news? Is the definition of a Moderate that member of the electorate most likely to be uninformed or misinformed?

    As to labeling … well, try visiting your pantry or medicine cabinet and ignore the labels. I think you’ll find them enormously helpful and important. However, Tim … it has been your rhetoric and selective rage/silence, not your label which has offered the greatest insights into your perspectives.

    Furthermore, you may want to consider my questions … you will after all be reentering a voting booth presumably. I trust you’ll do so informed and unambiguous. If you’re unable to discriminate between the ideas and actions of the Tea Party and the OWS gang I would suggest that for you, the issues aren’t as clear as they ought to be.

  • Tim Williamson

    Since you challenged the credibility of my data, I feel obligated to respond. I’m not sure where you’re getting YOUR information, but I will offer as a confirmation of my poll comments the following information posted on, a RIGHT-leaning website, for your perusal…

    Labels are fine for drugs and food, but not for people. Asinine analogy.

    As for the Republican jobs bill, what was offered was mostly a hodgepodge of previously offered bills, such as that old favorite–a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. It was claimed that the GOP plan would create 5 million jobs. That figure was derived from three proposals: individual and corporate tax cuts that reduced the top tax rate of 25 percent, which the Heritage Foundation said would boost employment by 1.6 million jobs over the next decade; a tax holiday allowing U.S. companies to return cash held overseas, which a Chamber of Commerce study said would create 2.9 million jobs in two years; and a study by energy consultant Wood MacKenzie, which said allowing access to domestic energy resources and imports of Canadian oil would generate more than 1 million jobs by 2018.

    First of all, the tax reductions and the energy proposals are going to do very little in the near term. The Heritage study looks at the impact over ten years. A project as big as reducing tax rates will take months, if not years, of legislative battles. Such a tax plan certainly won’t do anything to avert a recession right now.

    The same problem holds true for the energy proposal—a long-term fix that will not bring much near term help. Incidentally, this same study, which has been promoted by the American Petroleum Institute, was recently the subject of a front-page Washington Post article about the “fuzzy math” on jobs used by corporate lobbying interests.

    That leaves the Chamber of Commerce study on a proposed tax holiday, otherwise known as repatriation. It has a big figure—2.9 million jobs—and it was written by a credible economist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. But the last time this was tried, in 2004 and 2005, firms simply gave the money to shareholders as dividends or bought back stock, rather than creating jobs.

    Based on all of the above, I would hardy call the GOP offering substantive in any way. They KNOW the numbers are flawed, but they feed it to the public anyway. It’s certainly ironic that Senate Republicans cite a study that uses the same methodology that calculated successful job growth in the Obama stimulus bill. Republican lawmakers frequently decry the stimulus as a failure, but the CBO found that it added or saved between 1.9 million and 4.9 million jobs in 2010.

    And yes, I can distinguish between the ideology of the Tea Party and OWS, but in the end they are both radical elements of their respective political systems and will ultimately be dismissed by the American voters as such.

    Is the definition of a Tea Party follower someone who is so blinded by ideology that they can’t discern reality?

  • Larry

    Gee whiz Tim … your cut and paste functions are working well. You literally took, almost word for word, comments from Lefty websites to make your points. Are you certain that you’ve EVER voted for a Republican. Not sure where you’ve gotten the idea that Real Clear Politics is right leaning! Not sure at all. But those Rasmussen poll numbers are the latest.

    You clearly have thought through none of these matters on your own … you appear a hostage to misinformation and bias. That’s as sad as it is unnecessary. I can only guess that you think it clever to leave such comments on conservative websites … it isn’t … it is, however, a telling critique of the vacuous and dishonest nature of modern liberalism. Thinking for yourself requires more effort but is supremely more reliable and satisfying than relying upon others to do your thinking for you.

    As to your your critique of the Tea Party … well, suffice it to say that you’ve been drinking deeply from the same poisoned well … you may not agree with my opinions … but at least there original.

  • Tim Williamson

    Actually, the majority of the information I presented came from an article in the Washington Post, as I think I indicated in the text, not a “lefty website”, then again, to a Tea Party member perhaps the WP is a “lefty website”. Unlike you, I HAVE educated and informed myself regarding the issues, that’s how I know where to find the relevant information.

    And I find it hilarious that a Tea Partier would accuse ANYONE of not thinking for themselves…you have yet to refute ANYTHING I have posted, just resorted back to the same, tired Glen Beckish rhetoric typical of the extreme right.

    Your opinions original? No, shallow and lacking any substance perhaps, but hardly original.

  • Tim Williamson

    “RealClearPolitics is a political news and polling data aggregator based in Chicago, Illinois. The site’s founders say their goal is to give readers “ideological diversity.” They have described themselves as frustrated with what they perceive as anti-conservative, anti-Christian media bias, and while some have suggested the commentary is conservative-leaning, the site includes columns and commentary from both sides of the political spectrum.”

    Conservative Spotlight: Real Clear Politics, March 2003

  • Larry

    Tim, you’ve cut and pasted from the Washington Post whose same comments are posted throughout the Left’s blogoshere. The Washington Post provides (along with the New York Times) a continual stream of consciousness for the Left. Long ago it disqualified it efforts from being considered journalism. It proffers as news, fabrications and distortions. It is, therefore, a favorite read of the Left who seem to find the truth as threatening as they find revisionism comforting.

    Which leaves where we were … you cutting and pasting liberally from another publication and presenting it as your own thoughts. Furthermore, you did so in a fashion which betrays a very, very liberal perspective (and ethos?) complete with the Left’s signature dismissal of that most frightening political phenomenon … people who think … and worse think for themselves. A group which finds itself lately described as The Tea Party or simply said, conservatives.

    Real Clear Politics right leaning? No. At least not in the opinion of David Brooks and Howard Fineman.

    “New York Times columnist David Brooks said, “Some people wake up every morning with a raw egg and exercise. I wake up every morning with It’s the perfect one-stop shopping for the smartest commentary on politics and life.” Howard Fineman, Newsweek chief political correspondent, states that, “ is a site that makes a credible effort to do the impossible: to provide a comprehensive, real-time (and not just Beltway- based) overview of the entire American political conversation.” (From Wikipedia)

    Good night Tim.

  • Tim Williamson

    Ahhh, so what would be a “legitimate” news source from which I can gather information? Fox News? The Weekly Standard? Really, Larry?

    As I said, I thought I mentioned my source within the text, but apparently did not. My error. But it in no way takes away from the legitimacy of the information.

    So I have a “very, very liberal perspective” because I challenge what any informed individual can see is simply more GOP lies? So if I post something challenging the lies from the left, does that give me a “very, very conservative perspective”?

    Larry, the opinions you have posted today lack any credibility whatsoever because:

    1) You cannot support them with relevant data, only rhetoric.
    2) You right-wing bias is so evident as to render any opinion you offer lacking in depth of intellect or knowledge.

    And David Brooks, by the way, is a conservative.

    Good night, Larry.

  • Larry

    Legitimate? Well, a source which provides a full accounting of whatever item is under discussion. Offers differing points of view and finally, though most importantly restricts itself to an honest effort in disclosing relevant facts ABSENT efforts to editorialize. That is, it does not bend the news to fit its agenda … it leaves to its viewers or readers the task of forming opinions.

    Which explains the absence of such outlets on the Left where such activities are frowned upon. The Left historically relies upon indoctrination as its method of instruction. Informing people what to think rather than how to think is their stock in trade.

    The legitimacy of your information is called into question by its lack of veracity … not its source (though its source regularly lacks veracity). Your failure to source Tim seemed very intentional … your claims otherwise not withstanding.

    As to the other noise you’ve made … Tim, reasoned dialogue is not, nor, clearly, was it ever your intent. Should it have been, a very robust discussion could have been had. Consequently, you now, in an effort to save face, have gathered your army of straw men and depart the field claiming victory.

    If you are content to collect such victories, well, enjoy the party. Meanwhile, reality continues to unfold despite the Left’s best efforts to keep it at bay and adults are at work to set things right once again.

  • Larry

    One more thing … you continue to reveal your very likely and very liberal leanings with such remarks as “And David Brooks, by the way, is a conservative”. He is not, by any reasonable measure. Had you any familiarity with actual conservatism (rather than the contrived brand offered by liberals) you would have known that.

    Mr. Brooks is a liberal’s conservative … that is to say, he is a useful prop. No serious, thinking conservative regards Mr. Brooks as , well, as a serious, thinking conservative. His man crush on Obama merely confirmed what most knew … Conservatism is a very malleable phrase in the hands of Mr. Brooks.

  • Tim Williamson

    Larry, I stand here waiting for some “reasoned dialogue”. I would love a “robust discussion”. I have presented my case using my knowledge and the knowledge of others and have patiently awaited your reply. All I have gotten is right-wing buzzwords and catch-phrases, not a speck of relevant information whatsoever. The only thing you are able to fall back on is my lack of due diligence in giving credit to the source of my information, while conveniently ignoring the veracity of the information itself.

    Reality? Reality is the Tea Party being on life-support because it has migrated so far to the right that it has become an object of scorn and derision. That’s reality, Larry.

  • Tim Williamson

    And one more thing, Larry…there is no victory here or anywhere else where partisanship and rhetoric control the conversation. I have allowed you to pull me into the mire of modern American political discourse and we have made ourselves an example of what I despise most.

  • Larry

    Tim, I’m sorry but there simply is no reason to take your remarks seriously. Good night.

  • Tim Williamson

    Ditto, Larry..ditto. Perhaps when you are better able to present your case we can have that reasoned dialogue you claim to want.

  • Thanks to David French for an important essay.

    I’ve been genuinely shocked to see some elements on the Right launching ever more fissiparous ideological purges as if, rather than real conservatives, they were Marxist factions obsessed with petty-bourgeois deviationism, reactionary disloyalty to the Great Helmsman, capitalist roadism, and etc.

  • Larry

    Wow … little frustrated I guess, eh? Perhaps its simply people who’ve grown weary of political caricatures running for office … people for whom the desire to be president is a sufficient prerequisite for seeking the office.

    I’d prefer a passionate conservative who yearns to govern in a fashion which begins the arduous task of reversing course. A man or woman whose convictions formulate policy … not whose political gamesmanship dictates policy. Not someone who gauges his audience’s desires in order to craft his speech and garner their votes.

    Unfortunately Mitt Romney is not such a leader … he has demonstrated the very behavior so many have come to loath. His history and record simply do not recommend him to so high an office … to so important a task.

    I’ve reviewed his record as governor … it was worse than a mixed bag. It revealed the characteristic signature of a political expedient. His left office after only one term … with his party in shambles, high unemployment dogging his state, business leaders eager to bid him goodbye and a ruinous healthcare plan in place.

    Yet, I’m told that this somehow qualifies for nomination. That is sheer nonsense. His own state was not prepared to return him to office precisely because of his record and its outcomes … yet I’m told that he should be awarded an even higher office. Has social promotion now become a dynamic in Republican politics?

  • Larry

    Daniel, you link to a Mitt Romney booster’s site which lists Thomas Sowell as a favorite conservative columnist. He penned a column recently urging conservative candidates to rally around a single authentic conservative in order to prevent Mitt Romney from becoming the nominee and jeopardize the general election (column here … ).

    Is Thomas Sowell also a member of that “Marxist factions obsessed with petty-bourgeois deviationism, reactionary disloyalty to the Great Helmsman, capitalist roadism, and etc”?

  • There are many traditions that the American soul cherishes – baseball, apple pie, and an old fashioned witch hunt. However, those who criticism witch hunts often engage in them themselves. Such is the case with those who criticized Representative Peter King.

  • Concerned Citizen

    If the Tea Party’s candidates are the crazy woman who thinks that a 9 foot doctor is a reliable source and the man who you can’t google.. perhaps that says something rather fundamental about the mental capacity of the Tea Party.

  • Janeway

    I completely agree that the “Tea Party” has gone over the cliff. I helped organize our local Tea Party and feel like I helped create a monster. They did great till shorty after the 2010 and then the nut cases took over our movement.
    I kept wondering how many sounded like the old John Birch Society and then I clicked on a link that actually was the John Birch Society now – the words were the same, the repetitious claims about Romney, jumping from one candidate to the other, now they are faced with their real nemesis, Newt Gingrich. I cannot say I disagree with them about Newt but their paranoia is really showing now that their “Tea Party” people are running after the Newt. How is that working for them – probably not well. I am sorry the Tea Party has been overwhemed by extremest, easily led people with little background in politics.