02.16.2016 2

What happened to the tea party?

SantelliTeaPartyCNBC

By Rick Manning

Where is the tea party?

Since CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s fateful on air speech on February 19, 2009, the words “tea party” have invoked hate and vitriol from the left, fear from the GOP establishment and near reverence from the right, yet they are virtually unspoken in this election season.

Like every grassroots uprising on the right, the tea party was never a top-down organized entity, but instead a bubbling up of individuals who were concerned enough about the fate of their country that they gave up their time to show up at rallies, form small local groups and set up blogs to urge change.

And it was change they got.  In 2010, the GOP threw Nancy Pelosi out of the Speaker’s chair and replaced her with John Boehner who was known for fiery limited government speeches on the House floor.  After the 2012 re-election of Obama over a candidate who signed the state health care law that much of Obamacare was modeled after, Mitt Romney, those who identified with the tea party label gave Republicans their long sought after control of the Senate in 2014.

But a combination of budget compromises that funded Obama’s priorities while not rolling back the President’s dramatic expansion in government spending, the push for amnesty led by former tea party favorite Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the Senate, and the collapse of trust in GOP House leadership which brought down Boehner’s speakership, changed the movement.

Many of the people who made up the tea party were transformed from idealistic Tri-cornered hat wearing patriots who believed campaign rhetoric that mirrored their beliefs to a much more savvy and in some ways more cynical electorate.

After being victimized by Obama’s IRS abuses, and ignored by those they helped elect, many local tea party leaders are now challenging the very politicians who they pushed into office in 2010.

Becky Gerritson of Wetumpka, Alabama is one example of this new, confident leader.

After her small group was targeted by Obama’s IRS, Gerritson came to the fore testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee about the abuse before Congress with words that encapsulated what drove this ground up movement. (See her testimony here.)

Gerritson’s outrage at the abuse was made clear to everyone listening as she spoke to the heart of the tea party movement saying, “[we] had no party affiliation … It didn’t matter … the only notion expressed was that our representative government had failed us.”

“In Wetumpka, we are patriotic Americans; we peacefully assemble; we petition our government; we exercise our right to free speech. We don’t understand why the government tried to stop us. I’m not here as a serf or a vassal. I’m not begging my lord for mercy. I’m a born-free American woman, wife, mother, and citizen, and I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place.”

Summing up her testimony, Gerritson finished with a sentiment that resonates throughout those who were scorned by many on both sides of the political aisle declaring, “I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to preserve and protect the America that I grew up in. The America that people crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of, and I’m terrified it’s slipping away. Thank you very much.”

Yet in 2016, the words “tea party” are hardly heard.  What changed?

Well, for Becky Gerritson, after five years of watching the Congresswoman she supported in 2010, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, play the Washington, D.C. game, she decided that enough was enough, and is challenging that entrenched politician in the Republican primary.  A long shot bid with almost zero financing, Gerritson doesn’t seem to care about the odds, as she gives voice to the same idealistic, patriotic spirit that she brought before the House of Representatives during the IRS scandal.

Others, disenchanted by what they perceive as a betrayal by those who they sent to D.C., are making their collective voices heard as the silent majority supporting the outsider GOP candidacies of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.  The stunning rejection of D.C. approved Republican presidential candidates has left the party power brokers scrambling for alternatives, while trying to figure out if they can get their hooks into the Trump bandwagon.

And it is in the presidential primary, where we find the real answer to the question, what happened to the tea party?

It returned to its roots.  Not an organized political machine, but a movement of people who believe that America can and needs to do better.  Americans who believe that those who they once trusted in 2010 have used up their chances and in looking for an alternative many have turned to a brash New York real estate mogul who doesn’t fit strict philosophical tests.  Tests that were made moot by those who mouthed the right words before Election Day only to forget them once sworn into office.

They are turning to Ted Cruz, the eloquent outsider who hasn’t forgotten his campaign promises from 2012, and has stirred up hornets’ nest after hornets’ nest in the Senate due to his unwillingness to play the game.

But most importantly, they are now the majority of the Republican primary voters whose primal scream against the dangers of more and more government intrusion into their lives, and the dead certain knowledge that more government spending and debt erodes rather than expands the American dream has already been heard in Iowa and New Hampshire with it likely to become a full blown roar in South Carolina on Feb. 20 and the southern primaries on March 1.

The reason you don’t hear the words “tea party” anymore is because it is no longer a relevant term, the tea party is now the heart and soul of the Republican Party, much to the shock and chagrin of the comfortable GOP Congressional majority which is no longer believed by its base constituency.

Candidates like Becky Gerritson may not win their primaries due to lack of finances, but the ascension of Trump and Cruz to the top of the Republican candidate presidential heap proves that her voice is still resonating.

And that is how a movement takes over a political party defeating those who sought to manipulate them at election time while telling them to sit down and shut up for the other twenty-three months.

And that is the story of the tea party seven years after Rick Santelli’s roar.

The author is president of Americans for Limited Government.

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