The Tea Party Phenomenon

  • 07 Pages
  • Published On: 06-12-2023

Tea Party is a bottom-up social movement influencing midterm election and co-opted by the Republican. It is believed to drive sufficient Republican turnout and acts as a decisive factor in election races (DiMaggio, 2012, pp. 35-36). The rise of the Tea Party in recent times is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of the primary votes of the Grand of Party, which is the Republican Party, against the Party (McEnany, 2019, p. 235).

The nomination of Donald Trump, considered an outsider to the Republican Party is a sign of such dissatisfaction. The party’s establishment did not see this and they considered the Tea Party as a tiny fringe element of the party (McEnany, 2019, p. 235).

This essay will assess the link between the Tea Party and the nomination of Donald Trump and the grassroots conservative anger against the establishments.

The current relevance of the grassroots conservative movement

The 1964 Republican Convention was a high watermark for the political conservatism in the US. It represented a new conservative movement. Goldwater was victorious at the San Francisco Republican Convention in August 1964. This victory is directly related to the " conservative movement (Farbe, 2012, p. 110).

In the March 8, 1985 speech by President Ronald Reagan, he recognised the impact of conservative movement on American politics recognising conservatism as a respectable political point of view (Critchlow & MacLean, 2009, p. 1).

The strong relevance of conservatism in the current time is found in the tea party movement in 2014 or 2015 supported by Republicans who had positive views about the party and supported Trump. This section of the Republicans were unlike those Republicans who had mixed or negative opinions of the tea party (Pew Research Center, 2019).

The gap between the two sections of the Republicans could be seen throughout 2016. The latter group’s negative view about Trump increased while the former group who supported Trump. The former group gave Trump an average rating of 78 on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer,” in February 2018. The latter gave an averaged 59 degrees (Pew Research Center, 2019).


Trump represents the angst against the Republican establishment. One such incidence that reflected this angst was in 2015 public spat between Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham where Trump termed her an ‘idiot’, but still managed to score more points than Graham who had 4 points in her home state of South Carolina. Trump managed to bring down the old establishment of the Grand Old Party through his disruptive politicking (Dochuk, 2016).

The Tea Party dissents the Grand Old Party and criticised Democrats

A number of theories has be expounded to explain the discourse of the grassroots conservative movements in the form of the rise of the tea party.

The Tea Party movement is characterized by the belief that there should be limited government with dedication to Constitutional originalism (Ribali, 2012). The implementation of Constitutional originalism could be found in the opposition against immigration. Constitutional originalism means that the written law of the Constitutional should have the same fixed meaning as it was at the time of the adoption (Bennett & Solum, 2011, p. 78). The national government thus possess the power that the Constitution provides in its text and all other powers remain with the states. As such, the Congress does not have any power to legislate on immigration (Kent, 2013). The Tea Party believes, in addition to limited government and Constitutional originalism, in strong opposition to immigration (Tea Party Patriots Staff, 2016).

The Tea Party is a grassroot movement, which cannot be considered a political party such as the Republican or Democratic Party. It is a loose movement with activists, donors, and concerned citizens with the intention to inspire change. They are not aligned with either the Republican or the Democrats. It works, however, with the Republic party. Its members have also been a Republican or have run as Republicans with major support from the Tea Party (Zernike, 2010). The example is seen earlier when Trump had disrupted the old establishment of the Grand Old Party. They opposed the federal government with the basis reasoning that the ‘underserving groups‘ are receiving the handouts. This perception is driven by the racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes (Williamson, 2011).

The CBS News’ Brian Montopoli surveyed in a 2012 poll found the participants in the survey, comprising 54% of Tea Party Republicans, 41% of Independents, and 5% of Democrats, were frustrated and hostile with the US federal government. 51% of the participants were angry with the way of the national policies. 88% of them disapproved performance of President Obama (Montopoli, 2012).

2010 three-way debates, comprising Tea Partiers, Democrats, and independent candidates, in Minnesota and Florida. It was found that the ideological views of the Tea Party differ from the views held by Democrats and the establishment of the Republicans (Fetzer, et al., 2015).

The Tea Party employs methods more aligned with past conservative populist movements. This is found in their view of opposing the ‘out-of-touch’ Washington politicians (Coughlin, 2011). This is found in theirs and Trump’s administration view against immigrants, minority students or the ill and inform people who do not deserve medical care (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 1).

The Trump administration had the agenda of repealing the Affordable Care Act and cut number of immigrants into half. The Trump’s administration is a singular administration as he got elected without any experience of elected office or public service and follows a resentful politics. The resentful politics is traced its root to the Tea Party (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 1).

The Trump administration had the agenda of repealing the Affordable Care Act and cut number of immigrants into half. The Trump’s administration is a singular administration as he got elected without any experience of elected office or public service and follows a resentful politics. The resentful politics is traced its root to the Tea Party (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 1).

It has been observed that the Tea Party is a new form of long-standing strands of conservatism. Grass-roots Tea Parties possess anger against the new federal social programmes. This is seen in their opposition against Affordable Care Act (Williamson, 2011). At the same time, they accept the old federal social programmes such as the Social Security and Medicare. They believe they are entitled to such programmes. This reflects the views of the Tea Party’s conservatism that is driven by racial, generational and ethnic changes in the society. Such views or attitudes are extended to their detrimental views against poor or ill persons who they think do not deserve the social care (Williamson, 2011).

The anger of the Tea Party is, thus, stoked by the threat of future redistribution. They do not intrinsically find objection in the government programmes. They, however, see corruption in the government spending that creates benefits for people who they think do not deserve at the expense of hard-working Americans (Williamson, 2011).

The Tea Party has developed a culture of normalising rhetoric and tactics, which is based on the governance of the ‘my way or the highway’ principle. This culture is different from the mainstream discourse of the mainstream Republican Party. As such, the Tea Partiers are sometimes considered as truly reactionaries rather than conservatives (Parker & Matt, 2013). Such reactionary approach could be seen in the grassroot conservative resentment against the Obama administration by redefining his message of change to strong antagonism towards the ‘old guard’ of Washington, including Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and towards prominent Republicans, including John Boehner, the Speaker of the House (Kent, 2013).

The wave of populism

Donald Trump’s presidency is populist and has broken into the traditional liberal internationalist approach of American foreign policy. This is reflected in official campaign communication, speeches and Twitter prior to the 2018 mid-term election. The Trump’s approach towards foreign policy was found to be shaped by the populism as promoted by the Tea Party (Lacatus, 2020).

Jacksonian populism was invented by Andrew Jackson. It is a philosophy that is against establishment. Jackson viewed public investments being offered to unearned advantages to insiders would lead to corruption and would destroy the purity of the government (Watson, 2016).

Trump’s populism is anti-elitist. It is against migration and multilateralism. It was sceptical of the capacity of the country to support a liberal global order. Trump saw it as being detrimental to the people’s economic interest. It was, however, observed that there are inconsistencies between Trump’s campaign discourse of non-intervention in out-of-the-country military conflicts and the foreign policy action (Lacatus, 2020). As such, his populism is about rhetoric. Trumpism has significantly corroded international liberalism. It has affected the international trade agreements (Hall, 2021).

The election of Donald Trump as the President in 2016 is seen as the most unanticipated election outcome. His election is a representation of populism and also reflects the anger of conservative movement (Rudolph, 2019). Individuals’ policy preferences on current issues, such as immigration, influentially shaped the attitudes of Trump’s supporters toward the Republican and the Democratic candidates. It was also observed that the support that Trump received was strongly associated with the anger of the supporters toward the federal government. Such anger did not result to support to any candidates in either of the parties. Trump had leverage such populist anger for his political advantage. His anti-elitism shaped the outcome of the presidential election (Rudolph, 2019).

Even though Tea Parties and their populist anti-elitist approach make national headlines, in terms of policy establishment, they are argued to be unable to make a mark (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 110). For example, after the victory of Tea Party activist Brat, it was observed by Brian Umana in the Washington Post in 2014 that the win over Eric Cantor, a powerful Democrat, was possible due to a joint effort of the activists from both the left and right wings. Liberal activists viewed replacing the conservative majority with a new Tea Party member was an excellent strategic decision favourable to the Democrat (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 110).

Tea Party legislators are argued to be not effective in or eager to enacting policy (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 111). Tea Party legislators are considered lacking in political seniority, stature, or experience in pushing bills. For example, Christine O’Donnel, Sharon Angle, or Todd Akin has these characteristics. AS such, they are considered unable to produce a real policy. They are considered unable to verify or establish a permanent policy on a federal issue (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 111).

The attitude of the Tea Parties are therefore considered obstructive and are concerned with brinksmanship rather than enacting policies. The observation made are relevant to Tea Parties’ conflict with the Republicans as well as the Democrats (Gervais & Morris, 2018, p. 111). In this context, the current relevance of the Tea Party or the Donald Trump’s nomination may not truly reflect that they have anger against the mainstream political parties.

Trump is considered to have created a split in the conservative Tea Party movement. This was seen in the February 2016 poll that found that CNN poll Trump had led Ted Cruz 48 % over 40% among Tea Party in Florida. Ted Cruz had led Trump with 38% over 33% in Ohio (Carey, 2016).


There is no denying that the Tea Party movement has recently reshaped many of the Republican primaries. It has enhanced their voter turnout.

The grassroot conservative approach adopted by the Tea Parties and exploited by Trump drove sufficient Republican voting turnout. It decided the political environment in the US bringing down the old establishment of the Grand Old Party.

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The conservative populist movement driven by the ‘out-of-touch’ governance disrupted politics in Washington. It brought in a culture of normalising rhetoric and tactics. Trump’s populism is a symbol of such approach. However, despite the wave of such populism, Tea Party grassroots movement is lacking in the ability to push or establish policies. Many Tea Party legislators are considered inexperience and lacking in the temperament to bring policy changes. As such, the movements are considered merely disruptive and obstructive against the establishment, whether that of Republicans or the Democrats.

Overall, grassroots conservative anger would still impact the presidency, revitalise conservatism and push the Republicans or the government to the far right.


Farbe, D., 2012. The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism A Short History. s.l.:Princeton University Press.

Critchlow, D. T. & MacLean, N., 2009. Debating the American Conservative Movement: 1945 to the Present. s.l.:Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

DiMaggio, A., 2012. The Rise of the Tea Party Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama. s.l.:Monthly Review Press.

McEnany, K., 2019. The New American Revolution The Making of a Populist Movement. s.l.:Threshold Editions.

Pew Research Center, 2019. Trump's Staunch GOP Supporters Have Roots in the Tea Party, s.l.: Pew Research Center.

Dochuk, D., 2016. The Fissuring of the Republican Party: A Road Map to Political Chaos. New Labor Forum, 25(1), pp. 26-33.

Ribali, K., 2012. First Principles: The Tea Party Focuses GOP Platform on Limited Government. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 27 02 2021].

Tea Party Patriots Staff, 2016. Real Immigration Reform.. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 27 02 2021].

Kent, A., 2013. The New Originalism and the Foreign Affairs Constitution. Fordham Law Review, 82(2), p. 757.

Williamson, V. S. T. &. C. J., 2011. The Tea Party and the remaking of Republican conservatism. Perspectives on Politics, 9(1), pp. 25-43.

Zernike, K., 2010. Tea Party Set to Win Enough Races for Wide Influence. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 27 02 2021].

Montopoli, B., 2012. Tea Party Supporters: Who They Are and What They Believe. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 27 02 2021].

Fetzer, A., Weizman, E. & Berlin, L. N., 2015. The dynamics of political discourse: forms and functions of follow-ups. s.l.:John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Coughlin, A., 2011. The Challenges of Populism: An Analysis of Tea Party Structuring Narratives. s.l.:Colorado State University.

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