Memo to Media: Tea Party's Bite is as Big as its Bark
AP, New York Times and Washington Post critics assert doubts about electoral success of activists
In April, an Associated Press analysis of the tea party movement concluded it was "unlikely to dramatically affect the congressional elections." That analysis was carried by news sites and newspapers throughout the country.
The article questioned the significance of the tea party's ability to draw large crowds:
"But rally building is no big trick in the era of Twitter and Facebook, when people with cell phones can summon crowds from thin air for events as frivolous as snowball fights and bursts of song. Beyond rallies, the movement thins out."
The AP analysis stated that the tea partiers' litmus test would come during the November mid-term elections:
"Upcoming GOP nomination contests will offer further tests. Republican strategists are keenly watching Senate GOP races in Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida and Utah, where victories by tea party-backed candidates could tilt the party to the right."
Fast forward seven months when the Republican Party - once mocked as "dead" by its opponents - won six of those seven "tests", losing only in Delaware. The Republicans had what pundits called a "historic" election by taking control of the U.S. House and stripping President Obama's part of its monopoly control of the two chambers of Congress and the White House.
Yet despite this evening of historic GOP successes, Yahoo News' lead story Wednesday afternoon was by the Washington Post and theorized that the tea party movement actually cost the GOP control of the U.S. Senate because some tea party-backed GOP candidates lost.
That "mixed blessing" of the tea party movement was also reported by The New York Times. Yet tea party activists in Michigan have said that they never questioned the impact they would have in the November elections.
"The mainstream media, they thought we were a joke," said Jason Gillman, a Traverse City tea party activist who won his election Tuesday as a County Commissioner. "I knew we would have an impact at the first tea party in 2009. I saw people that were like me. I said, 'You know what? We got something here. This is big.' "
National mainstream media pundits would be hard-pressed to find a state where the GOP benefited more from the tea party.
Gillman claims the tea party movement played the key role in ridding the state of one of the key players in the passage of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - the federalized healthcare legislation. According to AP exit polling on Tuesday, almost 9 in 10 tea party supporters were in favor of repealing the health care law.
In April, U.S. Democrat Congressman Bart Stupak announced his retirement the same day the national Tea Party Express bus tour rolled through his district in northern Michigan. Stupak at first balked at voting for the health care law, but then relented and brought along other Democrat votes with him.
Gillman said the tea party outrage pushed Stupak to surrender the seat and retire.
"Stupak would still be in Congress if it wasn't for the tea party," Gillman said. "We shamed him. We tossed him."
Then, the district took another decisive turn toward tea party influence when tea party-backed candidate Dan Benishek knocked off heavily favored GOP incumbent state Sen. Jason Allen, who had been labeled a RINO by critics. Benishek won the primary over Allen by just 15 votes.
On Tuesday, Benishek finished the tea party conquest of Michigan's gigantic 1st Congressional district by winning the general election over a Democrat rival and putting Stupak's old seat into Republican hands.
Furthermore, Gillman said Justin Amash's win in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District, despite being "abandoned" by the old-guard GOP, was also a solid tea party win.
Amash was a favorite of the tea party movement, but his conservatism was seen as too extreme by some traditional Republicans. The Grand Rapids and Detroit newspapers ran stories listing noteworthy West Michigan establishment Republicans who were backing Amash's opponent, Democrat Patrick Miles Jr.
"Guess what?" Gillman said of Amash. "He won."
Gillman said he wasn't sure if the AP analysis of the tea party movement was just "lazy" or a media-driven effort to suppress the movement.
That April article quoted an anonymous "senior Republican consultant as describing the tea party movement as, "Lot of noise, no muscle." The article added: "But plenty of ability to make a scene."
The most noteworthy scenes that played out Tuesday in Michigan were of tea party success.
Michigan's Republican Party won control of the state's House and Senate, making it easier for GOP Governor-elect Rick Snyder to get his plans approved.
"I think they (tea partiers) laid the foundation for the victories in Michigan and across the nation," said State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills.
McMillin remembers a time in 2008 when he said many thought the Republican Party was in permanent minority status.
"Now," McMillin said. "I have hope."
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.