The Tea Party has died of hypocrisy

Political movements often run out of gas, but rarely do they stomp on the brakes and shift in rapid reverse. This month marks the ninth anniversary of the virtual Tea Party takeover of Congress. In 2010, more than 40 Tea Party Republicans were elected to the House promising to, among other things, lower national debt, reduce the power of the federal government, and support an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Now the Tea Party is essentially over, the movement degraded by its own hypocrisy.

The suffrage movement crystallized back in 1848, when the Seneca Falls Convention demanded voting rights for women in the United States. It lagged during the Civil War but made a resurgence that climaxed in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The movement did not actually die. Rather, it was reincarnated. It has found new energy in reproductive freedoms, the empowerment of women, and the #MeToo movement.

The modern anti-war movement started in February 1965, when American planes began bombing North Vietnam and more than 40,000 young men were being drafted every month. Soon, hundreds of thousands across the country were marching against the war. Draft cards were burned, and universities were inflamed. But when American forces began to withdraw from Vietnam in the 1970s, the movement quieted. Mission accomplished.


The Occupy Wall Street movement began in September 2011, spreading to more than 100 cities. Now the occupiers have mostly vanished. Some have moved on. Others have brought their energy to the likes of Bernie Sanders or “The Squad.” But the Tea Party is different. It never achieved its policy goals, but it did not lose its energy. Rather, its leaders decided that the best course forward would be the twisting path of partisan hypocrisy.

Last month, the Treasury Department announced that the federal budget deficit swelled to nearly $1 trillion this year. In fact, the deficit has grown nearly 50 percent in under President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE. But the same Tea Party that frothed about deficits under President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge denies Trump spokesman's effort to force Jan. 6 committee to return financial records Gina McCarthy: Why I'm more optimistic than ever on tackling the climate crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE now drools slavishly at the excesses of President Trump. Suddenly, deficits no longer seem to matter. Red ink is not an organizing political principle when it is Republican red.

Or consider the Tea Party opposition to the heavy hand of the federal government, at least when that hand belonged to President Obama. His executive orders were despotic and dictatorial. “State rights!” thundered Tea Party governors, attorney generals, and state legislators. But when the Trump administration moved to revoke automobile emissions rules by the state of California, the Tea Party fell into a state of deafening silence.

An originalist interpretation of the Constitution? Imagine the storming of town halls and emergency declarations on Fox News had Obama said, “I have an Article Two authority where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” as Trump has said. Tea Party leaders responded like sheep.

As it turns out, these sheep are wolves, preying on the legitimate anxieties of millions of Americans and exploiting their insecurities for partisan gain. The movement was as genuine, organic, and spontaneous as the town halls that Tea Party members crashed with orchestrations and people strategically planted to signal the crowd when to stand, hoot, and hiss. I saw this firsthand at my own town hall on Long Island nine years ago.

The Tea Party is thin policy draped over raw nativism and xenophobia. It has done nothing but run under false pretenses of deficits, executive orders, and constitutional fealty. Evidently, it was just kidding. Principled political movements on both the left and right find natural bridges to the next great cause. The Tea Party has hurled its principles off of a cliff.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Biden seeks to avoid referendum with sharp attacks on GOP Stopping the next insurrection MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.