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In Case You Missed It: Are Tea Parties the Future?

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Are Tea Parties the Future?
Politics in the Age of the Internet

WASHINGTON, JUNE 9, 2010–Four leading commentators on American politics gathered at AEI on Wednesday to discuss the rise and impact of the tea party movement.

Pollster Kristen Soltis of the Winston Group, a strategy and message-design firm, presented her research on the demographics and motivations of tea party supporters. Tea partiers, she said, are largely older, first-time activists who got involved through social-networking tools and who are driven by anxiety about the economy. David Weigel, reporter for the Washington Post, and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat both found parallels to the antiwar movement and warned that the tea party could face an “agenda problem” if it didn’t develop a clear message. The panelists agreed that the tea party movement had shifted national political debate rightward and that it would continue to have an impact.

AEI visiting fellow Jonah Goldberg moderated the event.

  • “What do [Tea Partiers] want? They want largely the same things the rest of America wants. They want the economy fixed. . . . [The health care debate was] the equivalent of taking a house that’s on fire and saying, well, you know that screen needs to be fixed and you can probably redo some of the wiring and maybe the foundation’s not so good. But until you put that fire out, nobody cares about the rest of it. You really have to address the fire, which in this case is the unemployment rate.”
    –Kristen Soltis, Winston Group, Director of Policy Research
  • “The tea party movement is driven by deficits, it is driven by taxes, it is driven by the stimulus and by the state of the economy. But there isn’t one set of issues that has the same kind of resonance as the Iraq war had for the antiwar movement.”
    –David Weigel, Washington Post

  • “The tea party could last as long as Obama is in power. . . . Barack Obama is so identified with the trends that created the tea party spirit in the first place.”
    –Ross Douthat, New York Times

  • “As a matter of full disclosure, on April 15, I was the keynote speaker at a tea party rally in Cincinnati and I did not get the distinct scent of sulfur in the air when I was there. But whether or not [the Tea Partiers] are spawned from the depths or reincarnations of Tom Paine, they are certainly having a huge impact on American politics today and on the Republican Party.”
    –Jonah Goldberg, AEI, Visiting Fellow