Top tea party group celebrates five years
February 27th, 2014
10:28 AM ET
6 months ago

Top tea party group celebrates five years

Updated 2:46 p.m. ET, 2/27/2014

Washington (CNN) – The Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest groups in the grassroots conservative movement, hosted a fifth anniversary celebration Thursday in the nation's capital, marking five years of change in the country's political climate.

With a string of speakers, the event focused on the movement’s milestones, such as the 2010 takeover of the House of Representatives and the re-energizing effect the tea party had on right-leaning political activists.

A push for broad appeal

Many speakers also hit back against the charge that the tea party has racist elements - a charge that has been consistently and vehemently denied by activists in the movement.

Conservative firebrand Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky warned the crowd that the tea party movement needs to be more inclusive and steer away from incendiary rhetoric about President Barack Obama – a nod to recent comments by gun rights activist, rocker, and tea party favorite Ted Nugent, who recently called Obama a "subhuman mongrel," sparking outrage and calls for Republicans to distance themselves from controversial figure.

"There are times, and I don't think it's our movement, but there are times when people are using language that shouldn't be used. I recently criticized someone for using some of that language and I'm not going to bring it up but I will say that we can disagree with the President without calling him names," Paul said. "There are people out in the public who are taking away from our message. Let's try not to be part of that."

"If we want a bigger crowd and we want to win politically, our message has to be a happy message, one of optimism, one of inclusiveness, one of growth," Paul added.

The tea party goal

Paul's speech focused largely on limiting the size of government and reining in federal spending. Paul said government spending is on autopilot, as evident by October's partial government shutdown, where only a fraction of government function was halted and spending continued automatically.

Sen. Ted Cruz, whose attempt to block parts of the President's sweeping healthcare law was the catalyst to the government shutdown, said millions of Americans, including Democrats, are fed up with Obamacare.

"We are making the case for the American people and let me tell you I'm absolutely convinced we are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare," Cruz said to applause.

Cruz, elected to the Senate in 2012 with broad tea party support, has drawn criticism from fellow Republicans for bucking leaders in his own party.

Cruz praised Paul's filibuster last year demanding more information from the Obama administration on the use of drones. The Texas senator also pointed to gun rights advocates' win over legislation pushing background checks on firearm sales, which failed to move forward in the Senate last April.

"That was ya'lls victory, it was the power of the grassroots," he said. "Liberty is never safer than when politicians are terrified."

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, another senator elected in 2010 with strong tea party support, said the movement is at a pivotal moment with an opportunity to push a more conservative agenda.

"As citizens, we have certain rights that are ours. Certain rights that we were born with as American citizens - the right to live under a limited-purpose national government; one that recognizes your right to privacy; one that recognizes your right to have most of the governing done at the state and the local level; one that recognizes the right not to live under and emperor who thinks he has every power to legislate under the sun," Lee said.

Lee also suggested the tea party movement should capitalize on the changing political landscape within the GOP.

"The size of the hole in the Republican Party is, I believe, exactly the size and the shape of a conservative reform agenda."

The tea party’s evolution

"What you did for America is stellar," Rep. Michele Bachmann told the audience. "It was life changing to the life blood of this nation, because you and the movement that we represent took the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi's hand...You did that."

Bachmann rose to fame during the birth of the tea party and launched a 2012 presidential bid with wide support from the movement, winning the closely-watched Iowa straw poll in August 2011.

After a disappointing sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses five months later, the Minnesota congresswoman dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination. And last year, she announced she would not be seeking re-election this November.

Most activists in the grassroots movement called for less federal taxes and spending; a curtailment of some federal powers in the areas they believe are the sovereign domain of state and local governments; and of course opposition to the large federal programs such as the bailouts and the stimulus, as well as Obamacare and the Wall Street and banking reforms, which were both passed in 2010.

The tea party movement instantly gave energy to the Republican Party, which lost the White House and lost more seats in both the House and the Senate in the 2008 elections. That energy was witnessed at large tea party rallies throughout 2009 and 2010, as well as the noisy opposition to Obamacare at congressional town halls during the August 2009 break.

The movement is credited with helping Republicans take sweeping victories in the 2010 midterm elections, when the GOP, thanks to a 63 seat pick up, regained control of the House, and narrowed the Democrats' majority in the Senate. And the movement is also credited with pushing the party, and the lawmakers it elected to Congress, further to the right.

Fighting back against the critics

One prominent theme among the speeches Thursday was a pushback against critics who insist the tea party movement is racist.

The NAACP in 2009 passed a resolution condemning what it characterized as rampant racism in the grassroots conservative movement. The NAACP claimed that conservative activists had engaged in racist behavior, for example, by waving signs containing symbols or slogans demeaning to African-Americans and President Obama, in particular.

Also, the NAACP claimed that tea party supporters think issues of importance to African-Americans get too much attention.

Last October, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, used an image of a burning cross in an email to supporters that compared the tea party movement to the Ku Klux Klan.

High-profile tea party supporters have long argued against the notion that their movement has racist elements.

Keli Carender, a tea party activist, said her “biggest surprise” about her involvement with the movement were the charges of racism.

“I have never been called a racist in my life before because I am not,” she said in a short speech.

“My parents marched for civil rights and they are tea partyers and so they were dumbfounded. They were like, huh?  How can we be these horrible people that they are saying that we are – and that it stuck.  We have to work so hard to overcome that.”

Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, was elected in the 2010 tea party wave that helped Republicans take back the House. He joked that “the tea party patriots are so racist, they decided that they wanted a Puerto Rican Mormon to be their congressman” – a reference to himself.

Others took a more serious approach. Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to the American Spectator, turned the tables on the left, saying they’re the ones with a racist history.

“These are people with a long and wretched political history of depending on any and every scheme imaginable then and now that judges their fellow Americans by their skin color,” he said. “And they have the nerve to call the tea party racists? It is more than past time to call them out (applause) and tell the party of slavery, segregation, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan (and) racial quotas to quit judging their fellow Americans by skin color.”

K. Carl Smith, an African-American and founder of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, works with members of his party on minority outreach. As the GOP works to diversify its base, Smith offered advice on how to spread the core principles of the party.

“We must make Frederick Douglas an integral part of the conservative message,” he said. “If not, we're doomed for failure.”

How the tea party started

The first tea party protests broke out in February 2009, as the new President campaigned for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 law, better known by most Americans as the Recovery Act or the stimulus.

The stimulus was the first major bill pushed by Obama as he took over in the White House, and he signed the measure into law just a few weeks into his presidency. The law was designed to respond to the severe recession and skyrocketing unemployment, which the President inherited, by saving and creating jobs by pumping money into the economy. The original price tag of the measure was $787 billion, which was later revised upward to around $830 billion.

2009: Tea party activists rally at U.S. Capitol

The stimulus, along with the Wall Street and auto bailouts implemented a few months earlier under President George W. Bush, are largely credited with sparking the creation of the tea party movement. Credit also goes to CNBC anchor Rick Santelli, whose rant on live television five years ago against the various federal programs, including a move to use taxpayer dollars to help those facing home foreclosure to keep their homes, helped energize activists.

"President Obama, are you listening?" Santelli exclaimed.

What next?

While it was successful in the House in 2010, the failure of the GOP to recapture the Senate in 2010, and again in 2012, was partially blamed on GOP candidates with tea party support that were deemed too controversial or conservative for the general election electorate.

And the tea party movement's influence in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination was also questioned, as the more conservative candidates such as Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, lost out to Mitt Romney, who did not enjoy widespread support from grassroots activists.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, a conservative from Texas, said the tea party movement arose from the "doom and gloom" of the economic recovery acts of the early years of Obama's presidency.

"Republicans didn't appreciate the majority that they were given by the tea parties in 2012 and we nominated a wonderful man, not because he was the best candidate but because it was his turn," Gohmert said of Romney. "We've got to restructure the playing field that we're playing on."

But those wishing to write the movement's obituary would be mistaken. Tea party backed lawmakers pushed House Republicans to help shutdown the federal government last fall in a battle over funding the health care law. And this year, six of the 12 GOP senators up for re-election face primary challenges from the right.

"We have a very real, real opportunity to throw the sand in the ears and stop it and take the gavel out of Harry Reid's hand this November," Bachmann said. "Let's not blow it."

Tea party movement activists and supporters make up around two-fifths of the GOP, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll. The survey also indicates that they want more ideological purity when it comes to Republican candidates. Half of tea party supporters questioned in the poll say their party's candidates are not conservative enough. Only 39% of non-tea party Republicans feel the same way.

As for Democrats, two-thirds questioned say their candidates are about right when it comes to ideology.


Filed under: Michele Bachmann • Mike Lee • Rand Paul • Tea Party
soundoff (233 Responses)
  1. Gurnicus Blanstonius

    The Tea party exists to obstruct, not to create. Can anyone name anything they've created? Have they help anyone except Christian 'soldiers' fighting to keep Christ in Christmas?

    February 27, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  2. ghostwriter

    Well, we could enroll them in Head Start....but they cut funding for it......

    February 27, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  3. smith

    @Silence- Those same signs were present in protests against Bush. Google it. Btw, just because some moron holds up an offensive sign that doesn't make the whole group racist. If it does, then the dems are just as insulting and bigots as the tea party.

    February 27, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  4. rudolph

    All taxation, regulation and government size and overreach ARE the largest ever. Unfunded liabilities and debt ARE the highest ever. Finally, disregard for the American idea of individual Liberty and personal property is highest ever.
    That's the reason we need the TEA party.
    Those of you who claim racism and fear as impetus are really afraid of losing your free ride thru creeping socialism and government corruption

    February 27, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. Tampa Tim

    How did the tea party become a social welfare group to get tax exempt status?

    February 27, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. tom l

    "Their websites speak of what they are trying to accomplish. Nowhere does it name religion. Nowhere does it mention social issues. The website tells what they are all about and the goal of a website is to tell people all about your organization and attract as many people as possible. Why wouldn't they include those issues if they truly were part of their platform?"

    A website, tom? Versus what folks have been seeing with their own eyes; experiencing in their own lives; witnessing what has been happening in Congress since this "grassroots" organization first formed?

    It is these life experiences folks bring to the voting booth. ALL ages; ALL demographics.
    ====

    Let's talk real life experiences as I have actually been to a couple of rallies. There were no hateful signs. Everybody was welcome to join. Are there idiots that attend some rallies? Of course. There are idiot repubs, there are idiot dems, there are idiot libertarians. No large group is immune to that. Liberals threw nails at TEA Party rally participants. Is that representative of all dems? No. Liberals threw oreo cookies at Michael Steel. Is that representative of all dems? No. It's hard to give credibility to anyone's comments here as none of them have actually been to a rally except for DMFO. I think smith brought up a good point about DMFO and her experience. She did do the exact same thing as examples of when a white person crosses the street when they see a group of African Americans coming their way. Both make assumptions and are not born from anything than a predisposition. I wish you would take the time to do more research and see for yourself. I have a real life experience.

    And I went to the googlez to check out pictures.

    February 27, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    tom l wrote:

    I read DMFO and she said she felt uncomfortable when she passed by a rally. I would like to know why. What do you mean that there was something in the air that didn't include all Americans? At the rallies that I went to back in LA they were kind, decent people (and I know you're not gonna believe this but they weren't all white, either).
    -------------------–
    If you need to ask the question, then you probably wouldn't understand. You'd simply disagree with the reason, just like you've done in the past. You'd tell her that her feelings were wrong. BTW, I've seen liberals want to join the Tea Party. They tried, and most all of them failed. They discovered that they were not welcome. That was back in 2008/2009. How recent was your Tea Party rally held in Los Angeles. That's a critical fact that you left out, tom.

    February 27, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    smith
    Fear and prejudice, there is no difference in what she did and when a white person crosses the road to avoid walking by a black person
    -------------------------------------------------
    Pray tell, smith, what exactly did I DO?
    I expressed how they made me feel.
    How did my expressing how they made me FEEL translate in that little rabble-rousing mind of yours into an ACT?
    Your ability to stir up the troops is dwindling, dear.

    February 27, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  9. DRJJJ

    Thank you for your courage, wisdom and passion! Somebody had to bring up our runaway debt! We've talked more about private sx lives than public debt!

    February 27, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  10. Name

    Martha in CF

    "We now know that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that were already operating as 501(c)(4)s,” Camp said in a statement. He added:

    At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83% were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100% were right-leaning." – House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp

    February 27, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. julnor

    The Tea Party has driven the Republicans in Congress to dig in on spending. As a result, spending has been pretty flat the last three years. As tax revenues have increased, the deficit has come down. Seems like their ideas are working.

    February 27, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. Thomas

    Michele Bachmann / Ted Nugent 2016

    Together We Ride , One by Land , Two by Truck ?

    February 27, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC

    tom l.

    Let's talk real life experiences as I have actually been to a couple of rallies. There were no hateful signs. Everybody was welcome to join. Are there idiots that attend some rallies? Of course. There are idiot repubs, there are idiot dems, there are idiot libertarians. No large group is immune to that. Liberals threw nails at TEA Party rally participants. Is that representative of all dems? No. Liberals threw oreo cookies at Michael Steel. Is that representative of all dems? No. It's hard to give credibility to anyone's comments here as none of them have actually been to a rally except for DMFO.
    -----------------------–
    I ask, when did this occur? I find your tale of Michael Steele attending a Tea Party rally, in Los Angeles of all places, to be completely and utterly implausible. That piece casts a considerable dark shadow over your entire tale, tom.

    February 27, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  14. smith

    DM4O- Feelings are actions, they are actions of the mind.

    February 27, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. Matt

    You mean this party is still going on? How's that possible when the house is a mess? Part of the roof is on fire, booze bottles are every where, blondes with blood on their faces passed out all over and I can hear the sirens in the distance. Sounds like the party is over to me.

    February 27, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  16. Thomas

    With Ted Cruz as your Co Pilot , and Michele Bachmann your Navigator .

    Your Lost !

    February 27, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  17. KieranH

    May it die by 6....

    February 27, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    julnor

    The Tea Party has driven the Republicans in Congress to dig in on spending. As a result, spending has been pretty flat the last three years. As tax revenues have increased, the deficit has come down. Seems like their ideas are working.
    -------------------------–
    Really? Seriously? If have facts, then you will see that the economy was recovering quicker before the Tea Party put so many people in the House. Did you lose the memo that concered talking points about the economy. "The Obama economy isn't working." You're supposed to say that the economy is terrible, blah, blah, blah.

    February 27, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    Someone must've told them, because lord knows most of them can't even count to 5.

    February 27, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  20. Lynda/Minnesota

    "I wish you would take the time to do more research and see for yourself. I have a real life experience."

    As do I, tom. As does DM4O. As does smith. And so on and so forth. I vote my conscience and whether you agree with my conscience or not does not lessen my vote as it applies to me. Nor do I question your voting habits.

    Would I ever attend a TeaParty gathering? No.

    Do I avoid walking down the street when a Black male is on the corner? Considering the diversity of my particular neighborhood, I would look a fool if I did so. My neighbors range from elderly white, gay, Asian, Latino, Black, and Muslim. On my block alone.

    Branching out from there ... well, you get the picture.

    February 27, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    What a joke. The Birchers are waaaaaay older than 5 years.

    February 27, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  22. smith

    Rudy- The tea party is not a private club, anyone can attend or join in their rallies.

    February 27, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    "Their websites speak of what they are trying to accomplish. Nowhere does it name religion. Nowhere does it mention social issues. The website tells what they are all about and the goal of a website is to tell people all about your organization and attract as many people as possible. Why wouldn't they include those issues if they truly were part of their platform?"

    In other words, the propaganda on their website just isn't honest and hides the ball. Their BEHAVIOR speaks volumes, tom. Their websites speak lies.

    February 27, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. Yonatan

    The Democrats are once again proposing an extension of unemployment, to the more than 2 Million workers with families, that have run out of benefits, since late December of 2013. The Republican Party has not voted for this extension, the last several times before. It's difficult to understand how the Republican Party can claim to be for "family values", while not expressing any human compassion, or "family values", to these poor workers with means of support. They chose to abandon these families, during the most " family holidays" Christmas. While these politicians spent the holidays enjoying the festivities with their loved ones in abundance, these people were left wondering how they will feed their children, and keep a roof over their heads. Since that time, while life want on in Washington as usual, many of these workers and their families, became homeless and hopeless. It's amazing that there never seems to be a "budget problem", when funding corporate welfare and foreign aid. In fact, the rich have actually gotten richer in this beautiful country of ours. While the gap between rich and poor, have become wider still. Somewhere back in time, politicians have lost their patriotic feelings of duty to their country, and have become self indulgent, self promoting, self important, career politicians. The term "Public Servant" has long been a thing of the past. Now, it's all about making the most money, becoming the most influential, and creating great wealth for themselves and family. Of course the 99 percent of the rest of us, are used as just the vehicle to get them there. It's time for the American people to take back this great country of ours, by voting these people out of office, and replacing them with "real public servants", who will actually serve the people, and not themselves, and self interest. Let your opinion and dissatisfaction be known in the next election. Remember these Politicians, who had such little regard for these 2 million unemployed workers, not to vote for an extension of benefits to have helped them through their most difficult time. These workers are not "Lazy" or "Unwilling to work" like some Republicans had accused them of. As a life long Republican, which I no longer am today, I certainly will make my voice heard in the next election. I think that the Republicans have miscalculated the American public, and will find that their callousness will cost them in votes next election

    February 27, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  25. Silence DoGood

    @Rudy NYC
    julnor

    The Tea Party has driven the Republicans in Congress to dig in on spending. As a result, spending has been pretty flat the last three years. As tax revenues have increased, the deficit has come down. Seems like their ideas are working.
    ---------–
    Really? Seriously? If have facts, then you will see that the economy was recovering quicker before the Tea Party put so many people in the House. Did you lose the memo that concered talking points about the economy. "The Obama economy isn't working." You're supposed to say that the economy is terrible, blah, blah, blah.
    -------–
    Economy good? "uuuhhhh, T-Tea Party Gooood."
    Economy bad? "uuhhhmmmm O-Obama B-baaaad."

    February 27, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10