Where’s the Tea Party?

By Hannah Bleau | gargoyle@flagler.edu

The last election cycle was a devastating loss for the GOP and its counterparts. Undoubtedly, the GOP had a tremendous victory in the 2010 Midterm Elections. But in 2012, something was not as prevalent as before: The Tea Party.

The Tea Party expounded ideas on constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, free markets and peace through strength. Some critics called them too extreme, while others thought they weren’t extreme enough. The Tea Party’s seemingly diminished presence in the last election left people on all sides wondering: Where did they go? Are they still around?

Executive Director of the First Coast Tea Party, Leanne King, says the Tea Party is alive and well.

“We heard that Duval County was in jeopardy of being lost, and we just put boots on the ground everywhere. We walked miles and we knocked on doors and we worked to educate people. We worked with Americans for Prosperity. We worked hand-in-hand with FreedomWorks,” King said.

Although the local Tea Party was successful in winning over Duval County, the Tea Party fever just wasn’t like it was before.

Because the Tea Party began in 2009, it was fresh and prevalent around the midterm elections. Stories of Tea Party rallies were constant in the news and everyone was hearing about this popular new party. During this election cycle, the media didn’t cover them as much which made the Tea Party seem more disengaged.

“After 2010, you know how it is,” King said. “Well, I got a victory. I’ll pound my chest and walk away. So you know everything’s going to be OK, and those of us that were very involved knew that was not the case — that the challenge and the fights would continue.”

Chair President of the local Democratic Party, Nell Toensmann, believes the Tea Party is far from being dead, but first vice chair Jerry Urbanec, believes they’ve simply retreated.

“I think they’ve taken a few steps back. If they make another return to their glory years so to speak, I think it’s going to be whether the Koch brothers types decide to fund that,” Urbanec said.

These local Democratic leaders see the Tea Party in a different light. They attribute their former success to one key thing: racism.

“We got not only a black president, but a black, intelligent president who had been a professor of Constitutional Law and it’s kind of like people will say, ‘I’m not racist,’ but they are as racist as can be. They may not even know that they are, but they are,” Toensmann said.

Urbanec had a similar sentiment.

“They usually have a black friend and that’s why they’re not racist,” Urbanec said.

Although Democratic Party officials don’t claim that all Tea Partiers are racist, they say the Tea Party attracts racist individuals.

Urbanec and Toensmann don’t see the Tea Party reigniting unless big time conservative investors come in and sweep them to victory.

“It won’t be effective because of these small groups of mostly seniors all across. It will be because people like Karl Rove and they’ll pump the money there. They’ll bring the people out,” Urbanec said.

Urbanec and Toensmann also see the Tea Party’s vision as ineffective, perhaps pertaining to their recent loss. They see them as completely anti-government and hypocritical.

“They’re fools in their political ideology. Their manner of which they took over the Republican Party, brilliant,” Urbanec said.

But according to the First Coast Tea Party website, their mission is quite different.

“The First Coast Tea Party’s mission is to promote the principles of our founding fathers — individual liberty and responsibility, limited government and moral leadership.”

King also scoffed at the notion of Tea Party racism.

“It’s very interesting that if you disagree with something — an idea, a policy, anything, you’re suddenly a racist, or you’re Islamophobic, or you’re an elitist, and see, that’s just sandbox, sand throwing and playing nasty games,” King said. “It absolutely moves this country nowhere so I usually just chuckle and go give me some substance, you know.”

Even if it seems they are quiet, the Tea Party is still around and effective. More than 50 members of Congress consider themselves Tea Partiers, and the upcoming midterm elections are reawakening people, King added.

“People are now rallying again, and I don’t know if it’s because they feel the defeat, they see what’s happening,” King said. “Even though the press doesn’t report everything, there’s a lot of social media that people are hooked in to. We know what’s going on. People are beginning to reengage, and I know for the First Coast Tea Party, we’re seeing a lot of engagement.”

The midterm elections are nearly one year away, but Tea Party bases are firing up. America might just see another significant reemergence of the Tea Party, reminiscent of the appearance three years ago.

“They’re still meeting all over the country,” Urbanec said. “They’re still there. So the fire’s still there. It’s not out.”

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