The 2010 midterm elections were marked by ubiquitous images of voters waving Gadsen flags in the sun, women with tea bags hanging from their hat brims, and determined men in Paul Revere costumes shouting proclamations.
What happened to those people?
If you ask the people who helped organize the tea party into a movement, they’ll readily concede that tea party rallies this election cycle are not as prolific as they were in 2010. But they say they’re doing one better this year: Instead of simply rallying, they’re organized and on the ground (and on the phone, in your mailbox and on your radio and television) in select states to try to elect tea party candidates to office and effect what they say is “real change.”
“The movement has matured … and we’re now tea party 2.0,” Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express, told Yahoo News. Kremer and other tea party leaders say that while the tea party rose to fame in 2010, that cycle was just a learning period for the movement.
“In 2010, we didn’t have our feet under us,” Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director of FreedomWorks, told Yahoo News. Instead of a “haphazard” plan, as he described it, 2012 will bring a “much more sophisticated approach.”
The tea party in 2010 made headlines for its rallies, its anger and its energy. But its most lasting changes came in the form of getting tea party candidates elected to office, sometimes at the peril of establishment Republicans. The movement’s leaders say they plan to do the same this cycle.
“Some folks think the tea party has gone away because they’re not out seeing 5,000 at a time waving ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags,” Indiana Senate challenger and tea party candidate Richard Mourdock told Yahoo News last week. “But where they are, are working as volunteers in campaigns like this campaign.”
If Mourdock, the state treasurer, defeats Sen. Dick Lugar on May 5, he will largely have the tea party to thank.
With the effort, money and energy the movement has put into Walker’s recall, Mourdock’s primary and other local elections this year, the tea party has effectively turned these races into the determining factor of whether it will be viewed as a major force in politics after 2012.
Even so, the Tea Party Express and select additional groups (but not all) plan to be involved in the presidential race even though Mitt Romney is not regarded as a tea party favorite.
“I will work my heart out,” for whomever wins the nomination, Kremer said. “We can’t afford another four more years of President Obama.”