LAST WEEK, Rand Paul, an outsider candidate with little experience, won the Kentucky Republican senate primary against the establishment favourite Trey Greyson.
Paul, an opthamologist who describes himself as a “career doctor not a politician” on his website, had the backing of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement. He won easily with 59 per cent of the vote compared to Greyson’s 35 per cent, in a victory which suggests the Tea Party may be gaining momentum and influence.
Palin proclaimed Paul’s win as a “wake up call for the country”. She added: “We have an opportunity not to embrace the status quo but to shake things up.”
Paul’s policies perfectly embody the deeply conservative, limited-government agenda of the Tea Party Movement. Paul opposes all government bailouts, advocating reliance on charity rather than government to provide social services, and wants to raise the Social Security retirement age. He also opposes restrictions on gun-ownership, and all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
Rand Paul is a candidate created and moulded by the Tea Party and is a fervent champion of the movement. “I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back,” said Paul after his win.
Democrats and moderate Republicans alike fear that Paul’s win may demonstrate that the Tea Party are able to impact upon mainstream politics. But his victory will also give the Tea Party increased and perhaps unwelcome scrutiny as voters examine what the Tea Party stands for rather than what it stands against.
The Tea Party movement is the umbrella name for a protest movement orchestrated by local and national groups, and internet communities. Their name alludes to the 1773 events of the Boston Tea Party protests against taxation without representation.
Paul opposes restrictions on gun ownership and all abortion even in cases of rape and incest
The movement is a vocal and angry, but relatively powerless, collection of people united by their opposition to big government, President Obama’s stimulus package, and increased taxation. Its growing influence may signal a shift further to the right for the Republican Party, with moderate Republicans being ousted in favour of more conservative candidates.
Operating at a grassroots level, it provides libertarian conservatives with the opportunity to mobilize and protest against an administration that they perceive to be invasive and spending without control. A survey by Rasmussen Reports last week found that 48% of voters stated that they have more in common with the views of the average Tea Party member than those of Obama.
Although only about a year old, the Tea Party movement has been increasingly in the headlines, with a series of well-attended protests gaining them media attention. It mobilized thousands of protesters for last year’s Taxpayer March on Washington, dubbed the 9/12 Tea Party.
The Tea Party movement has no formal leadership or organization, something which could be potentially damaging should it try to expand its political influence.
The movement encompasses a wide range of viewpoints from those doubting Obama’s US citizenship to political figures such as Sarah Palin threatening the potential for cohesion. Its adherents are divided between young fiscal conservatives, and older members who oppose widespread government intervention, but still support programmes such as Medicare and Social Security.
What remains to be seen is whether the Tea Party movement is capable of significantly influencing mainstream politics, or whether its protests are largely impotent manifestations of anger by disgruntled conservatives.