The angry oldsters who formed its white-hot core fancied themselves tax protesters.
There is a long tradition of supporting state spending on yourself (hands off my Medicare) while opposing the allocation of tax dollars to someone else (Obamacare is tyranny). The Tea Party covered this mundane transaction in a powdered wig.
Until Donald Trump came along.
Trump, whose genuine populist instincts appear unconscious of, and unencumbered by, American history, dispensed with the tri-corner hats. His offer required no validation from neo-colonials, no resort to hallowed principles of limited government. Trump's deal was straight up: He would secure the government programs -- Social Security, Medicare -- that benefit older, whiter Tea Party voters while chasing younger, browner Americans away from the public trough. He would even clear out of the country anyone who failed to prove citizenship.
The Tea Party is now indistinguishable from the Trump Party.
One of my readers said essentially the same thing in response to a post I wrote recently on the upcoming three-way civil war in the Republican Party:
Tea party supporters and Trump supporters are the same people. They came out of the woodwork in 2010 because they thought the black president was going to give money to "undeserving" (brown) people. They have been called "Reagan Democrats," "white ethnics," "NASCAR dads" -- but what they are is white nationalists. Not cross-burning racists -- a lot "softer." Chris Rock called them "sorority racists." The three factions in the Republican party are corporatists, bible-thumpers, and racists. There is a very, very small overlap. Mostly they support the other factions in order to get what THEY want. But Trump showed that the white nationalists are a plurality of the GOP, and that they are tired of being "dog whistled," at as well as tired of seeing brown people and gays getting equal rights.
But I'm going to disagree with both and stand by my earlier post: I still expect a three-way civil war after the election between Trump voters, the tea party and the establishment.
Who, exactly, would represent these three factions of the Republican Party (as in the picture above)? Good question, and I doubt we'll know right away.
Trump, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is 70 years old and will probably be exhausted after this campaign. But he's identified a sub-group within the party that had previously gone un-served by either the tea party or the establishment: whites without a college degree who couldn't care less about social issues, tax cuts for the rich or adventurism abroad but are animated by trade, immigration, their entitlements and, yes, race.
(By the way, Wilkinson also writes:
Competing arguments that Trump supporters are motivated by declining economic prospects versus racial resentment are not mutually exclusive.
I think this will be a huge topic after the election: what motivated Trump's voters, the economy or race -- or both? I'm not sure myself, and I think it will be a subject for discussion for a long time.)
Back to Trump. Either the Donald will stick around, or anoint a successor, or some other enterprising individual will step up to serve that market segment. But his voters aren't going anywhere.
Then there's the tea party. If you'll recall, Ted Cruz -- the darling of the tea party -- came in second in the primaries. Who knows, if a bigger con artist (Trump) hadn't come along the junior senator from Texas could have been the GOP standard-bearer right now. So don't tell me the tea party isn't alive and well.
Cruz will almost surely run again in 2020, but I think he had his chance. That doesn't mean there still isn't room for a Koch brothers-backed, "Constitutional Christian" candidate. Think of Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or his more hawkish colleague, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Finally, of course, there's the Republican establishment. (Remember them?) Paul Ryan's name would immediately come to mind as its likely candidate in 2020, but I'm going to say the speaker of the House would much rather be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee than president (or speaker, for that matter). I predict the establishment turns to someone more in the mold of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a popular, business-friendly, socially liberal, fiscal conservative who would outsource foreign policy to the "realist" wing of the GOP.
(I know what you're thinking: didn't the Republicans already run a governor like that from Massachusetts?)
Whomever the establishment settles on, though, he (or she) will also be strongly pro-immigration reform, pro-free trade and make a real effort to reach out to blacks, Hispanics and women in a bid to expand the party. (Good luck with that.)
Which of these three will come out on top? Your guess is as good as mine. But it will be bloody: I'm going to estimate that each "wing" represents about a third of the party. It could take years to sort this out. In the meantime, don't be too surprised if the United States finds itself in another Era of Good Feelings in which Democrats control the White House for six consecutive terms (at least).