Left-of-center pundits and activists across the nation are upset about November’s election results. As they continue grasping for answers, they are mistakenly trying to draw parallels between today’s anti-Trump protests and the Tea Party movement in the false hope that political salvation is just around the corner.
When people think of the Tea Party, they often remember the national protests. However, the movement’s legacy was not cemented by rallies. Instead, it is being realized through continuous waves of victories at the ballot box.
Most importantly for the conservative activists, those election victories are likely to continue because there is a strong Tea Party presence in the very essence of the conservative, Republican political infrastructure.
The Tea Party’s coming-of-age can be traced back to January 2010 in a special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in dark blue Massachusetts.
It was no surprise that the media reported we had no chance, as the state had not elected a Republican senator to that seat in more than 50 years - not to mention the fact that 62 percent of the state’s voters had just cast ballots in support of Barack Obama. However, the Tea Party shocked both the media and the world by winning handily and sending Scott Brown to Washington.
Through this victory, in which the Tea Party Express played the most significant role in helping to nationalize the election, we were able to prove that support for the Tea Party message was as broad as it was deep.
That victory in Massachusetts proved that conservatives could win anywhere, and that electoral message was carried on to purple states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, where each of those senate candidates who won in November of 2010 won again in 2016.
At the gubernatorial level, we’ve seen the number of conservative chief executives swell to 33, complemented by conservative majorities in 69 of the 99 state legislative bodies. And, except for Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, every governor elected through the 2010 Tea Party-wave was re-elected in 2014.
The key to the Tea Party support was the inclusiveness of the movement. The only litmus test was a commitment to opposing the increasing size, cost and intrusive of the federal government and supporting fewer taxes and regulatory burdens so the economy could grow and expand opportunities for all Americans.
But unlike the Tea Party, that broad support is not evident in today’s anti-Trump protests. Many of these rallies were busy excluding people they disagreed with instead of trying to broaden their base.
An honest look at what’s happening today also reveals a significant lack of geographic diversity, which is exactly what propelled the Tea Party.
Statistician Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight and a special correspondent for ABC News, published an in-depth analysis of the anti-Trump Woman’s March. In his report, Silver finds that “80 percent of march attendance came in states that Clinton won.” By comparison, 58 percent of the Tea Party protests were in states that Obama won in 2008.
RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende also explored the Democrats’ base problems in a series of articles titled “How Trump Won,” by pointing to the party’s heavy, yet limited representation in mega-cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Moreover, Trende’s piece explored the Democrats’ inability to succeed in small towns. Trump won big victories throughout rural and small town America.
The result of those two realities is that even though states like California, New York and Illinois may turn out a lot of anti-Trump protests, those protesters’ voices are already being heard and represented by their democratically elected presidential electors, senators and Congress-people.
So, unlike the Tea Party, which proved able to win competitive races, where can this anti-Trump “movement” go?
Five members of Congress have been chosen to serve in Trump’s cabinet, and their offices will have to be filled in upcoming elections. There will be openings in Montana, Alabama, Kansas, Georgia, and South Carolina. Does anyone think an anti-Trump candidate will be viable, like Scott Brown was in blue Massachusetts?
Will these protestors dare test just how “populist” their message is by seriously supporting candidates in any of these races? Or will they take a page from Occupy Wall Street and the recent University of California protests and allow their movement to be pre-empted by those seeking violence and destruction instead of rational debate?
My bet is these anti-Trump protestors will go the way of Bernie Sanders and seek political purity rather than political victory. Thus, the Tea Party will continue serving as the most consequential political movement in modern American politics.
Taylor Budowich is the executive director of the Tea Party Express political action committee.