Top tea party group celebrates five years
February 27th, 2014
10:28 AM ET
4 years 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. ghostwriter

    I can say this much.....when I went to one recently, they did have enough respect to not say anything that bad...especially since the meeting was about minority outreach. They did manage to have some nutcases screaming about why they should have to include certain groups who may or may not have been denied service in AZ if the gov hadn't vetoed the bill. Fortunately, they were told to sit down.

    The highlights of the night were when one woman stood up and said, "I am a divorced mother of two, and I'll be darned if I go back to that cheating SOB or get married to another SOB just to fit the definition of a family." The other one was in response to some nutjob saying that if you are financially broke, then it's because you are morally broke as well. The response was, "I see some very wealthy folks in Vegas and in the porn industry and broke people who would give the shirt off their back to a person less fortunate."

    There is's just that the ones screaming "I hate Obama" the loudest tend to be the ones in charge.

    February 27, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  2. Fair is Fair

    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.
    I didn't see anywhere in his post he said Michael Steele attended a tea party rally. He simply said liberals threw oreos at Michael Steele. You need to brush up on reading for comprehension. It's fundamental, you know.

    February 27, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  3. JIM

    remember your 2016 presidential nominees ryan and or rubio voted to shut down the government and cost our country 24 billion .. for what??

    February 27, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  4. Hogan's Goat

    "Taxed Enough Already. Seems simple yet liberal people hate them" Really, you think anything that sounds good is going to be good? Kinda like "National Socialism" sounded like just the thing for a country in a postwar depression, but since it had been quietly taken over by fascists in the background, the name was just a cover.
    We need to start a Peace and Freedom Party for these suggestible people to join. What could go wrong, eh?

    February 27, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  5. Ron L

    I don't have a problem with about 80% of what the tea party stands for. My problem is many of them think in a vacuum and are extremely gullible to statements by EXTREME right wing politicians who KNOW many of their statements are misleading. For instance when it comes to the IRS and 501(c) (4)'s both Democratic and Republican organizations were selected. Some Democratic ones were denied just like some Republicans. But the ROOT problem is the code has been purposely changed to make it vague so this game can continue. If you want to get the IRS out of the 501(c)(4) business change the back to the original text. This would eliminate ALL political groups from the tax break. The tea party members hate the climbing deficit but they want to blame "lazy" people who get government assistance. Well, if you want to save $200 billion dollars a year, raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in the next three years so FULL TIME workers won't need SNAP and other programs. You want to reduce the deficit, reduce the size of the industrial military complex. America spends more on the military than the top 12 nations combined!! This borders on the ridiculous, and it has more to do with Senators wanting to keep workers in their state employed than the countries safety. The tea party complains about the ACA, well have your Republican members of Congress and Senate follow up on the idea of making doctors and hospitals post their pricing like every other business in America. The REAL PROBLEM with heath care is not the insurance cost, it is the pricing by the doctors and hospitals. You get more competition there and the rest of it will work out just fine. In short Tea Party members need to quit just listening to the half truths delivered by many of their politicians. If they checked out both sides they just might find there is hope and strength for all Americans somewhere in the middle.

    February 27, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Lynda Minnesota
    @ Dominican mama: "I found myself physically uncomfortable around the participants."

    I've felt that in comment sections as well. Many times I've had to walk away just to clear my head
    Thank you Lynda for understanding what I felt.
    I will tell you my friend that I felt weird posting that that was the way I felt. I could've gone into deeper detail but I think you caught the gist.
    I've attended private high schools and college. I grew up in this country once I left the Bronx around White people. My family is so mixed that we don't see color...unless we're made to see it.
    I was not in the midst of the rally that day. The participants were passing me by with their placards en route to the Mall where the rally was to take place.
    I will tell you Lynda that even though the streets were packed with pedestrians and attendees the mood was deeply somber from those that were mere spectators or passerbys like myself. I cannot properly describe it in this forum, but suffice it to say there was a strong air of defiance, trepidation all around. It was not embracing. It did not feel like a "come and join us" rally.
    I have NEVER in my life experienced anything like what I FELT that day.
    But unlike what smith will have you think I had no intention of shifting my trajectory, or speeding up my pace.
    I too am an American. I don't scare easy.

    February 27, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  7. Silence DoGood

    @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.
    I goggled it. Could not find a racist poster used to describe Bush.
    Seriously, I want the Tea Party to run a candidate just like you. Let everyone hear the irrational ranting. Making stuff up as they go. They will never be taken seriously again.

    February 27, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. J Russ

    S.B. Stein My bigger question is where were these people when the George W. Bush administration was pushing through bills that weren't paid for and expansion of government programs?

    Actually the origin of the tea party was in response to Bush's stimulus, but hey, why worry about the facts when they don't suit your agenda, right?

    February 27, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Rebecca

    I am tired of religions being tax exempt. Separation of Church and State.

    February 27, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  10. Silence DoGood

    @Hogan's Goat
    "Taxed Enough Already. Seems simple yet liberal people hate them" Really, you think anything that sounds good is going to be good? Kinda like "National Socialism" sounded like just the thing for a country in a postwar depression, but since it had been quietly taken over by fascists in the background, the name was just a cover.
    We need to start a Peace and Freedom Party for these suggestible people to join. What could go wrong, eh?
    Remember the Moral Majority? Too bad it was neither.

    February 27, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  11. salty dog

    The more they talk, the more repulsed I am.

    February 27, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  12. gobsmacked

    So, the tea party is 5 years old. At least that explains why they act like 5 year-olds.

    February 27, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  13. smith

    @Silence-You don't consider a poster calling bush a nazi or hitler racist? My friend that is reverse racism. Btw, Im not for the tea party. I have stated many times Im an Independent. I just don't think the tea party is the klan.

    February 27, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. Tampa Tim

    My favorite Tea Party moment was when the baggers spit on congressmen and used homophobic slurs against them. We all know why they appeal to the haters.

    February 27, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    I didn't see anywhere in his post he said Michael Steele attended a tea party rally. He simply said liberals threw oreos at Michael Steele. You need to brush up on reading for comprehension. It's fundamental, you know.
    You shouldn't be the one to talk. Did you forget what you did yesterday? I had agreed with you on something, and got chewed out for the effort. Besides, I think Tom was talking about the rally he attneded. If not, then he needs to brush up on his English rhetoric. Change of subject usually mandates a new paragraph. tom, is not one put everything into one mega-paragraph.

    February 27, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  16. RadioUranus

    The Tea Party is five years old - only if you don't count the years it was the Ku Klux Klan.

    February 27, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  17. Name Uche Agonsi

    The Tea Party jacks deserve a birthday gift..... Mmmmh FROM IRS.

    February 27, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  18. Lynda/Minnesota

    "I have NEVER in my life experienced anything like what I FELT that day."

    I do understand because of the relationships my husband has had with various organizations over the years of our marriage. Many, many times I felt constricted when I attended "pot-luck" gatherings. I can only state that over the years he has distanced himself (I won't go into detail on the e-mails we would receive) from so many of them that we very rarely associate with those whom I would term lacking in empathy.

    There will always be puppet masters looking for our emotional strings to pull.

    February 27, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ tom l
    tom l my response to Lynda should've been addressed to you as well.
    I will tell you though that I did not attend the rally.
    I happenned to be within 2 blocks of it.
    Attendees were on the Metro with me, and we were all exiting at the same stop, Metro Center in downtown DC.
    It was a uniquely uncomfortable experience tom l.
    Sometimes feelings are difficult to explain.
    I have no doubt that your experience and others that may have attended rallies differed from mine. I have no reason to believe otherwise.
    But on that day, in 2009, I felt uncomfortable in a way I have never before or since been made to feel.

    February 27, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  20. MasterWooten

    Happy Birthday Tea Party! Even if the GOP never takes the WH, with enough Tea Party backed Congressmen and women the anual deficits that top 900 billion and the national debt which is now over 17 TRILLION (US) DOLLARS will NEVER be on the radar with your average Democratic administration with Congressional allies. Just WHO IN THE HELL is going to tackle the American spending problem. Yes The Tea Party is 5 years old, 5 years ago it tried to stop stimulous spending which nearly became a way of life. Even Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy had to tell this president that the time to stop proping up the economy with bogus, borrowed money is now and that was 2 and a half years ago!

    Say what you want about the Tea Party, but sooner or later Amercain government WILL shut down without any action or inaction from Congress. It would be foreign creditors and investors and folks holding US debt saying "No!"

    February 27, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  21. smith

    @DM4O-First, I never said you stepped up your pace, I made a comparison based a mindset. Second, "I found myself physically uncomfortable around the participants." are your words. Physically uncomfortable by definition means anxiety, anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation. You made the statement and I just answered Tom l,s question.

    February 27, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  22. Solomon Walker

    No, the Boston Tea Party celebrated its 240th anniversary on December 16, 2013.

    The fact that this political party usurped the name "Tea Party" from that wondrous event is an insult to those of us who are DAR, Sons of the American Revolution, and descendants of the settlers and founders of the 13 Original Colonies.

    February 27, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  23. spike

    People who want the govt. to keep racking up credit card bills don't understand the consequences.
    People who don't care if our constitutional rights are violated have no clue as to the consequences of that path.
    People who want the military to keep supporting over 800 military bases around the world have no concept of the value of money or taking care of your own first.
    People who are still in favor of banker bailouts have no clue about right and wrong.

    These were some of the primary motivators of the tea party. People who oppose it either don't understand it, or, identify with the communist party

    February 27, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  24. Craig in Pa.

    I predict that as soon as Obama is out of office the TP will served it's intended purpose...and good riddance!

    February 27, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  25. JIM

    jobs bill has sat in congress for two years stop complaining about jobs pass the bill our president put on the table, he knows what he is doing, bekieve me.

    February 27, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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