To get a better grip on the Tea Party movement, we should take a look back to 2008. In a year when angry voters were expected to vote out Republicans, there was one voice in Red that was drawing crowds.
No, it wasn’t Sarah Palin. It was Ron Paul.
“One of the things that struck me in 2008; it was pretty clear the Democrats were going to take the election,” said Scott McClurg, associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “But Ron Paul was attracting a lot of attention and that signaled to me that there was a figure in the Republican Party that wasn’t being heard.”
Paul stressed smaller government. His fiscal agenda is libertarian and his social agenda is close to libertarian except for his pro-life stance. He drew crowds wherever he spoke but was ignored by his own party, and in many instances, the media.
It was only fitting that his son would be the first Tea Partier to win a primary during the election.
Rand Paul may have been the first Tea Party candidate to win a primary election during this election cycle, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Six Republican Senate winners were endorsed by the Tea Party; more won in the House of Representatives.
Now they head to Washington where questions will be answered. (http://www.kentucky.com/2010/11/03/1508819/how-will-rand-paul-other-senate.html )
The media came late to this party.
The media too long ignored the Tea Party movement and media members are still trying to get a handle on this phenomenon. The Tea Party is hard to figure for a number of reasons.
“Two things stand out about them,” McClurg said. “One, this group of people is very heterogeneous. We’re actually talking about a lot of people with a lot of different ideas. Some are very strong libertarians, some are John Birchers, some are just very angry people.
“Other than being angry, they don’t have anything to bind them together. On that hand, I don’t think they’ll make a go of it.
“On the other hand, in terms of policymaking, I don’t think they’ll play nice with the Republican Party. They aren’t going to want to compromise at all in terms of health care and taxes. They’re angry, and that doesn’t get things done in D.C. in terms of policy making.”
By the time media recognized the anger, they were scrambling to catch up. Did they do a good job of describing the Tea Party from the Tea Party’s inception to the present?
“Broadly speaking, I think yes,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “I read plenty of stories that had good representative quotes from people who were very unhappy with the situation in Washington. But did they really plumb the depths of the anger, did they write about the causes of it, were those causes legitimate?
“Did the Washington Post and the New York Times cover that? I think they did and I think some other good newspapers did the same.”
The top newspapers may have covered the anger. But media couldn’t really grasp the anger during this cycle because so much of it was aimed at them.
McClurg described two different types of media during this cycle. Call one the traditional media and the other the entertainment politics media.
“There is a difference between the CBS nightly news and Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity,” McClurg said. “The louder voices are the opinion media and people are seeking media of that type. It feels like they’re getting that kind of media more frequently. The traditional media have been there but now they must compete with everyone else. Also, they become the target of the entertainment politics media.”
For years, media credibility has been taking a nose-dive as media consumers become more partisan and less inclined to trust old fashioned, middle of the road journalism.
“Two things are going on,” McClurg said. “One, they have to compete with these other people and two, their credibility is being attacked by the entertainment politics media.”
Candidates shied away from traditional media and tough questions in favor of partisan media and a mainline right into their base. And the tactics, in many cases, worked.
But not in all. The candidates who were too radical for the Republican Party, the Christine O’Donnell’s and the Sharron Angle’s lost. But a lot of them won and seem to be normal candidates.
“They’re politicians,” McClurg said. “They’re just like every other politician. They capitalized on some voter anger.
“O’Donnell is a good example of someone who wasn’t a true politician. She was an ideologue.
“ But there are people who recognized the potential and the anger and figured out a way to tap into it but did so in a way that did not make them seem like they jumped off the cliff. They talked about smaller government and did it enough to identify with that anger but they weren’t running in a way as to single themselves away from the crowd.”