In popular "lore", Rick Santelli's infamous rant on the free-market schill network that is CNBC, was the spark that lit the fire creating the tea party. There is something to this, indeed there is a lot to this ("tea party" became the perfect rallying cry for disgruntled coservatives), but it is fair to say that conservatives had already been rankled by the 2008 Democratic sweep into power and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the so-called "Stimulus Bill").
At all events, suddenly the Internet blew up, and along with the "conservative media complex" (i.e., Fox News, Drudge, talk radio, Red State) and wealthy GOP donors, like-minded angry Americans connected with each other and formed tea party groups. Then, after passage of the Stimulus Bill, President Obama decided to pursue health care reform in the form of Obamacare. As you probably remember, in the Summer of 2009, the vitriol and venom of the tea party came out in full force at town hall meeting held by MCs and senators.
The mid-term elections of 2010 saw tea party candidates sweep into Congress and state legislatures. The conservatives and the national media all towed the same line: this was a vote against Obama's liberal agenda. This was incorrect. As the Atlantic showed:
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The 2010 electorate wasn't the 2008 electorate. Twenty-nine million members of the Obama coalition stayed home Tuesday, according to ABC. A different slice of America showed up at the polls on Tuesday: same gender, slightly whiter, much older, and much more conservative.
And this ties into what many people don't understand: the demographics of the tea party. Because of videos taken at tea party rallies like this one people think tea partiers are dumb, racist and backwards. This is not the case: tea partiers tend to come from the middle- to upper-middle class, are White, college-educated and older. (Sounds like the 2010 electorate, right?) They are also, as political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson found, very, very conservative. As the title of their book indicates, the tea party has indeed remade the Republican Party. (One commentator has suggested that Skocpol and Williamson gave the tea party a pass on the racial resentment among its members). In any event, even though President Obama won re-election in 2012, the tea party remained unabashed; in fact, they doubled down on specific issues. This includes, as we have found out the hard way, Obamacare. The rhetoric surrounding Obamacare left any bounds of reality: "Hardworking American families are struggling and their life has become harder and harder and harder. And madam president Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country. The American people want to stop this madness and so do I." (That's Ted Cruz). .
Now, though, support for the tea party has fallen to a "near-record low." The mega-rich GOP donors are angry at the tea party faction. But, in large part, they've accomplished their goal by forcing a government shutdown over their opposition to Obamacare. However, when your agenda is anti-everything, the tea party does not seem to know what to with its "accomplishment." As one Indiana tea party congressman said: "We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
We don't even know what that is. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.