The origins of the Tea Party movement can be traced back to the winter of 2009 and a rant by CNBC anchor Rick Santelli claiming the Obama administration did not understand what the American people were facing with high unemployment and mortgage foreclosures. Spurred on by Fox News personalities like Glenn Beck, it was not long that public displays of anger soon became part of mainstream media reports. Eventually, last August’s town hall meetings on healthcare reform laid the groundwork for a more organized national movement.
Unlike the Republican social conservatives of recent decades, the Tea Party fed on economic uncertainty using a message that married libertarian politics with strict fiscal conservatism. Its initial audience was an angry segment of the electorate, but its influence soon spread to the mainstream parties, the extent of which became clear by the time the Republican primaries rolled around. While liberal newscasters like Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow were quick to present the movement as a far-right outlier supported by Fox News, right-wing bloggers, and Rush Limbaugh, it seems the so-called fringe movement was much more than that.
All this was taking place while the Obama Administration was engaged in a prolonged battle over the most comprehensive healthcare bill in U.S. history. The bill eventually passed, but not the anger or the insecurity about the economy. The result is Obama’s approval ratings now remain stubbornly below the 50 per cent mark, and Democrats are bracing for significant losses in the November mid-terms.
The Tea Party movement’s success has, of course, come at a price. Its apparent inability to keep racists out has brought it unwanted attention just as it ramps up its political campaigns. It’s not clear what impact the controversies will have come November. But one thing is certain: the political landscape has changed dramatically since Obama’s election.