Archive for the ‘Tea Party’ Category

The Tea Party: Not Trump, Not Dead, Just Different Now

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Originally published at Every Joe

Seven and a half years ago, I was sitting on the couch in my tiny 5th floor apartment in Boston’s North End pretending to study for the LSAT. But I couldn’t focus on the future prospect of law school because I was distracted by a congressional vote that had me both angry and depressed. I watched in disgust as our elected officials passed the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the corporate bailout that both John McCain and Barack Obama supported just weeks before the 2008 presidential election.

I remember that feeling of hopelessness quite well. The knowledge that a Republican president who started his term with what should have been a conservative Congress was going out in a blaze of corporate welfare glory. What was the point, I wondered, of electing Republicans if they were going to govern in a manner virtually indistinguishable from Democrats?

I was coming down off of my first year and a half of political activism in the insurgent Ron Paul for President movement. Not even a year prior to the bailout I had been one of the organizers of “The Boston Tea Party Freedom Rally,” held in support of a money bomb grassroots activists had put together for Paul’s campaign. Because we were the Boston Ron Paul Meetup group and our event was tea party themed, we thought we had a chance at getting Ron Paul himself to our rally. Instead, we struck a compromise.

We were told by the campaign that we should reach out to a Paul family member. It’s not Ron himself we thought, but at least we’d get to hear from someone who knows him well and is a pretty eloquent political activist in his own right. That’s when I got a message from a guy named Rand Paul. He told me he’d keynote our rally, and made it to Faneuil Hall despite the blizzard ravaging Boston that mid-December day.

Just under a year later, it felt like those efforts had been in vain. I watched in horror as McCain suspended his campaign to support a corporatist attack on the free market. And I wasn’t shocked by Barack Obama’s sweeping victory and resulting control of Congress. But I was somewhat surprised – in a good way – when months later I learned about the emergent plan for tea party rallies.

I hadn’t heard the original rant where Rick Santelli called for a tea party on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade at the time (though it’s still epic and I suggest you watch it). But I sure as hell understood the tea party sentiment instinctively. It was a reaction not just to President Obama, but to the whole government-financial complex. So I signed up to be the Boston organizer through the Tax Day Tea Party website that listed the points of contact for the April 15th, 2009 rallies.

The original tea party rallies brought a diverse cross-section of people together. You had individuals from across the political spectrum, not to mention frustrated apolitical types, many of whom were hurting economically and opposed the whole notion of corporate welfare. As the movement grew from rallies into political action, it focused more highly on the core principles of free markets and limited government. And quite honestly, the electoral results were impressive.

The tea party sweep of Congress in 2010 was no small feat, and there were many repeat victories in 2012. The fruits of this are seen in the current presidential election in Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. All three of these men, though they hold diverse views and align with various wings of the conservative movement, have one thing in common: They ran insurgent campaigns based on free market principles that took out the establishment-standard bearer during their senate primaries with grassroots tea party support.

Paul, Rubio and Cruz represent what the tea party movement’s groundwork matured into. Donald Trump, even as he showcases his endorsement from self-styled tea party advocate Sarah Palin, does not. I’ve gotten into this both on Twitter and in a Boston Herald Radio interview in the days since the incoherent Palin speech that spawned a thousand “The Tea Party is Dead” think pieces. There are several angles that need to be considered here that I think are largely being overlooked.

Number one is the overly broad conflation of right-wing populism and the tea party. Insofar as restrictionist views on immigration and trade protectionism can be considered right-wing populist, and in a subset of the movement they are (see Pat Buchanan and paleoconservatism generally) it’s possible to put Trump in that category – though even that is tricky given his very recent history as a liberal Democrat – but there’s no doubt he appeals to some people in that camp.

The tea party is also a form right-wing populism, but it was born of support for free markets in response to the pernicious corporatism of George Bush, Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. There’s no doubt that some tea party supporters, particularly those who liked the movement more for the anti-Obama entertainment factor than the policy fights, have gravitated toward Trump. But polling has consistently demonstrated that the most conservative voters reject Trump and that his base of support is disaffected moderates and independents.

Palin, who let’s not forget came on the national scene because McCain tapped her as his vice presidential pick right before he suspended his campaign to support the Wall Street bailout, latched onto the tea party movement as a rally fixture due to its popularity. She has no doubt enjoyed an enthusiastic audience among some tea partiers, and that speaks to a divide that exists in all political movements – identity and entertainment versus policy and governing.

As Jim Antle aptly pointed out at The Week, “Palin’s appeal has always been as much about who she is and what she represents as much as what she believes. She was the Bible-studying, gun-toting, hockey mom who affirmed social conservatism while defying stereotypes about what a social conservative — normally depicted as prudish men seeking to control women’s bodies rather than independent women — looked like.”

And really, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Both the left and the right engage in their own forms of identity politicking. But the tea party has always been more than its entertainment wing, which is why Palin’s decision to latch onto Trump’s traveling circus is far from its death knell. We’ve seen the fruits of hard fought tea party victories translated into policy during presidential debates when Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz duke it out with the other candidates over the details of their remarkably conservative tax plans. We see it in the House Freedom Caucus and the once unthinkable fact that John Boehner and Eric Cantor are no longer members of Congress. And we see it from the ground-up as tea party organizers continue to impact both the Republican Party and their local government.

Yes, it’s remarkably frustrating to those of us who poured blood, sweat and tears into electing strong tea party conservatives to see an undesirable form of right-wing populism take the hot seat while ours gets less policy and media attention. In some ways, the same sense of hopelessness I felt during the bailout vote has returned. But this is the normal ebb and flow of politics. The right-wing entertainment circuit will travel on, as will the toilers who work to elect fiscal conservatives concerned with limited government principles.

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin might be dominating the news cycle, but don’t forget that the tea party movement put three strong presidential candidates on the stage. The truth of the matter is that the tea party isn’t dead, it’s just different now. Seven years in, it would be impossible to expect a populist movement that coalesced around a single issue to not have fractured. The early tea party organizers are busy supporting candidates of their choice, and many have made big impacts in their local and state government. Neither Trump nor Palin will ultimately kill this ongoing grassroots work.

Reason: Being Libertarian vs. Being Anti-Establishment: The Crucial Difference

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Nick Gillespie at Reason picked up my recent piece about the differences between being anti-establishment and pro-liberty.

“Here’s an interesting piece from Corie Whalen Stephens, writing at EveryJoe. It’s a meditation on the Tea Party, the Ron Paul Revolution, “libertarian populism,” and the current Trump moment. ‘This Presidential Cycle is a Reminder That Anti-Establishment Doesn’t Mean Pro-Liberty,’ reads the headline. Snippet:

I’ve noticed in the months since this presidential cycle has unfolded that a surprising amount of people from the liberty and tea party networks I’ve built up are sympathetic toward Donald Trump; a man that Ron Paul has in my opinion correctly labeled a ‘dangerous authoritarian.

The tea party movement, which ushered libertarian-leaning politicians like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Raul Labrador, and Mick Mulvaney into the halls of Congress, was in my view a resounding success. It was a political force that I was elated to have been a part of since its inception, and it’s still my belief that these particular men represent the best of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

What has come as a less than pleasant revelation however, is the fact that a sizable chunk of the group that helped to empower these honorable individuals is not made up of people who are meaningfully pro-liberty. Thanks to Trump-mania, it’s become clear that a contingent of the coalition responsible for these elections was simply ‘anti-establishment,’ in perhaps the most vapid way imaginable.

As Congressman Thomas Massie said recently to a group of young professionals in his district, ‘I’m thinking, wow, the American public really seems to like these libertarian ideas. And then Donald Trump runs and he gets all of their (Rand Paul and Ron Paul) voters, he gets all of my voters. I’m thinking, no, they’re just voting for the craziest guy in the race. It was very sobering for me. I’m that guy.’

I’m confident that Trump the candidate will fade, though there’s every reason to believe that a lot of his attitude and temperament will live on, whether in the candidacy of Ted Cruz or somebody else. The mix of bravado, bluster, and bashing (of immigrants, of foreign powers, of other candidates as “weak,” etc.) is appealing to lots of people, after all.

Where Whalen is understandably disillusioned by her experience, which she notes is in part generational, I’m actually kind of encouraged to see so many different people from different places drawing distinctions between forms of anti-establishment attitudes. The libertarian instinct will ultimately prevail for many reasons, but not least of which is that it’s built not upon fear and anxiety but on appeals to the positive dreams and aspirations of people.”

This Presidential Cycle is a Reminder That Anti-Establishment Doesn’t Mean Pro-Liberty

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Originally posted at Every Joe

Approximately nine years ago, I could often be found standing atop various northbound Massachusetts overpasses, waving a homemade sign at people I hoped were New Hampshire voters. My teenage years had concluded with an almost immediate foray into the world of early grassroots-led Ron Paul Meetup groups, an admittedly odd activity for a 20-year-old girl halfway through her junior year of college.

I had just moved back to my home state of Massachusetts from New York City, new boyfriend who would go on to become my husband in tow, when I heard something that would end up drastically changing the course of my life. I was listening to then talk radio host Jay Severin while driving from Boston to my hometown twenty miles west, when he explained that there was a dark-horse candidate for president, a congressman from Texas.

Jay didn’t very much care for this particular contender, but there was one thing he respected: Ron Paul said that his political platform was the U.S. Constitution. As a history lover and budding libertarian, this piqued my interest. Like many others in early 2007, I eagerly Googled Ron Paul. I was drawn at the time to his ideological consistency, and the fact that he was a thorn in the side of an unsavory Washington establishment.

Disappointed in both political parties, but especially Republicans for the extent to which they grew government under Bush’s watch, I jumped headlong into the Ron Paul movement. I quickly learned the essential activist lesson that politics makes for strange bedfellows, running into some less-than-rational actors in both the Boston Ron Paul Meetup group that I quickly rose to become a co-organizer of, and the New Hampshire groups with which we collaborated closely.

Nevertheless, I looked past many of these differences at the time, and for many years later, because we shared a common cause: limiting government and furthering liberty. Or so I thought. I’ve noticed in the months since this presidential cycle has unfolded that a surprising amount of people from the liberty and tea party networks I’ve built up are sympathetic toward Donald Trump; a man that Ron Paul has in my opinion correctly labeled a “dangerous authoritarian.”

Statistically speaking, it’s true that Trump is popular among independents and moderates while he doesn’t perform as well among committed conservatives. However, there are factors that often resonate more strongly with people than ideology, and one appears to be, among a certain subset of voters, the perception that a candidate is “anti-establishment” and “against Washington,” his actual policy positions, apparently, be damned.

In my relatively few years of activism amid the broader scheme of time, I’ve been tied to the “anti-establishment” crowd, because it just so happened that on the Right in the past decade, this has generally meant support of free markets and an opposition to big government corporatism. I recognize this has not always been so, and that historically speaking, populism is often ugly and void of anything valuable to those interested in liberty.

But in the era of Obama, I was – and still am to a degree, mostly in a generational context – optimistic about the rise of libertarian populism as an answer to the President’s desire for centralization. But there are good reasons to be pessimistic in the near-term.

The tea party movement, which ushered libertarian-leaning politicians like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Raul Labrador, and Mick Mulvaney into the halls of Congress, was in my view a resounding success. It was a political force that I was elated to have been a part of since its inception, and it’s still my belief that these particular men represent the best of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

What has come as a less than pleasant revelation however, is the fact that a sizable chunk of the group that helped to empower these honorable individuals is not made up of people who are meaningfully pro-liberty. Thanks to Trump-mania, it’s become clear that a contingent of the coalition responsible for these elections was simply “anti-establishment,” in perhaps the most vapid way imaginable.

As Congressman Thomas Massie said recently to a group of young professionals in his district, “I’m thinking, wow, the American public really seems to like these libertarian ideas. And then Donald Trump runs and he gets all of their (Rand Paul and Ron Paul) voters, he gets all of my voters. I’m thinking, no, they’re just voting for the craziest guy in the race. It was very sobering for me. I’m that guy.”

Massie’s realization has hit many liberty activists equally as hard. It’s difficult to quantify anecdotal evidence, particularly via social media, but there’s nonetheless been enough circulating to raise eyebrows. Massie however, had some hard data to share. He cited a poll from October that showed Trump with over 30% of the vote in Kentucky’s fourth district, noting that he apparently has to tread carefully as his supporters are Trump’s voters. At the very least, even if these people don’t ultimately support Trump, they’ve been sympathetic to him; a concerning sign for a libertarian-conservative given Trump’s diametrically opposed views.

But Trump is, in a lot of ways given his bombastic style, seemingly “anti-establishment,” insofar as you define that by his present behavior rather than his record of donating to figures like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. To those who were interested in Ron Paul because he poked the establishment in the eye, it’s plausible, as Massie said, that Trump is an equally appealing “middle finger to Washington.” To those who were interested in Ron Paul because he espouses small government positions however, the thought of Trump as president is nothing short of terrifying.

This is the dichotomy I recently brought to light as the moderator of a panel on the tea party movement at the Republican Liberty Caucus’ national convention. I noted that many libertarian-leaning conservatives had for years conflated anti-establishment sentiments with support for free markets. There may have been a convenient intersection of the two that culminated in positive election results during the 2010 and 2012 cycles. But it now seems as though that coalition isn’t an especially enduring one; particularly as many self-described tea partiers or anti-establishment types elevate nativist fear-mongering that leads to economically restrictionist policies closer to what Bernie Sanders supports than anything even remotely described as free market or pro-liberty.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as a particular shock that blind anger at “the establishment” is often rooted in nothing more than frustration absent a substantive aim. What’s disappointing to many of us who have been organizing for liberty within that sphere for the past decade however, is that we perhaps over-estimated the extent to which that anger could be channeled toward what we had reason to believe was an emergent libertarian populism.

Though I have seen similar diatribes throughout my Facebook feed this presidential cycle, it hit me particularly hard this week when I saw a post advocating for Trump from what just months ago would have struck me as an unlikely source: The man who started the Boston Ron Paul Meetup group. In May of 2007, I had walked into a meeting in the basement of a restaurant in Harvard Square organized by him, knowing absolutely nobody and having not the faintest clue as to what I should anticipate.

My subsequent years of activism have yielded much that was unexpected, but nothing has shocked me more than the fact that many people seem to be equally satisfied with libertarianism or authoritarianism – two diametrically opposed ideologies – insofar as they’re both packaged as sufficiently “anti-establishment.” Today, I find myself learning the lessons of history I’ve always known to be true the way we all eventually do; through cold, hard experience. If a dangerous authoritarian like Donald Trump is the anti-establishment answer to a leftist demagogue like Barack Obama, count me out entirely.

This revelation has led to an uncomfortable confrontation with my political worldview that I’m admittedly working through at present. I suppose in some ways, it brings me full-circle: I’m the same constitutionalist I was when I was first seduced by Ron Paul’s elevation of our nation’s government-limiting charter. Mob rule – known in a friendlier context as direct democracy – isn’t an answer; even when it seems for a time that the pitchforks are conveniently aimed at your enemy.

Kentucky Democrat who attacked Rand Paul over “Aqua Buddha” loses again

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Jack Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, lost to businessman Matt Bevin in the state’s gubernatorial race by a margin of 53 to 44 percent on Tuesday. This is Conway’s second high profile loss in recent years. In 2010, he was defeated by none now-presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul. In fact, it was Conway who gained fifteen minutes of fame on a national scale for his infamous “Aqua Buddha” attack ad against Paul.

In his below-the-belt commercial, Conway conflated an inside joke between Paul and his friends about “bowing down to Aqua Buddha,” a clearly made-up character, with Paul being offensive to Christianity when Paul is in fact, a devout Christian. This led to Paul, who since becoming a Senator has been known for positive relationships with across-the-aisle colleagues, to refuse a handshake with Conway at the end of a senatorial debate.

Said Paul, “When this debate ends, you’ll notice I will not be shaking his hand tonight. I will not shake hands with someone who attacks my religion and attacks my Christian beliefs. These are very personal to me. My wife, my kids, we take this very personally. I will not be associated with someone who attacks my religion.”

Conway’s loss was one of many blows to Kentucky’s Democratic Party, which included the defeat of Adam Edelen, their state auditor. Edelen was the man Democrats expected to field against Rand Paul in the wake of critics claiming his presidential campaign could make him vulnerable to a Senate challenge.

Now, it appears as though Democrats will have to scramble to find a suitable challenger; a boon to Paul’s already safe reelection prospects. As Rare’s Jack Hunter reported:

National Journal published a story Tuesday titled, “Rand Paul’s Political Stock Dipping Back Home” citing the potential threat posed by Edelen,” yet despite this, as Hunter noted, “Harmon’s win was part of a GOP surge, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin defeating Democrat Jack Conway. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Harmon defeated Edelen 52 to 48 percent.”

Cruz, Paul, and Perspective

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

As a libertarian who worked very hard to bring my fellow travelers into the Ted Cruz for Senate camp in the primary and runoff, I’m a little disturbed by the way I see some Cruz for President supporters currently treating both libertarians and Rand Paul, especially in my home state of Texas.

Make no mistake: Without the help of the Paul family and the grassroots activists who align with them, Ted Cruz would NOT have had a base broad enough to force Dewhurst into a runoff and garner his ultimate win. We were indispensable. This is something Senator Cruz himself has acknowledged, and anybody with a real understanding of the campaign knows that. There’s a reason Cruz’s camp pushed his endorsement from Senator Paul as hard as they did, and hired former Paul staffers.

In the Spring of 2012, I wrote a piece in The Daily Caller entitled “Ted Cruz Can Unite the Right.” Now, it feels like many of his supporters want to steamroll over a significant portion of the people who got Senator Cruz to where he is today, and I have to admit, it hurts me on a personal level. That type of behavior is a very good way to burn the bridges you crossed to get where you currently stand; a risky behavior, indeed.

To be clear, this actually isn’t a criticism of Senator Cruz himself. I think for the most part, he’s been pretty classy, and I still count many of his supporters, especially staff, among my good friends. What I’m bothered by is both a lack of respect for people who were there from day one, and a weird focus on trying to destroy Senator Paul when the GOP establishment and Hillary Clinton are much bigger problems.

I understand that presidential primaries will inevitably get nasty. I also realize that there are Rand Paul supporters who need to work on their behavior as well. Believe me, I really do know that all too well, and anyone who follows me is aware of the fact that I spend plenty of time “policing my own,” so to speak. But there’s something very disturbing about some of the attitudes I’m seeing here in Texas. We all ought to know better.

Remember, Tea Partiers (a group I’ve been very intimately associated with): Rand Paul was elected in the 2010 wave. He and mostly Mike Lee, laid the groundwork for Ted. Rand Paul is far from an enemy; you owe him big time for Ted’s ability to even run for President at all. It’s also important to remember that at the end of the day, we’d all want Ted or Rand before someone like Jeb Bush. Perspective: It’s important.