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Diplomacy in Action

The Tea Party and the 2010 Midterm Elections

FPC Briefing
Kate Zernike
New York Times reporter and author of "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America"
Foreign Press
Washington, DC
October 22, 2010


Date: 10/22/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Kate Zernike, New York Times reporter and author of ''Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America,'' briefs on the Tea Party and the 2010 Midterm Elections at the Washington Foreign Press Center on October 22, 2010. - State Dept Image
3:30 p.m. 

 

Ms. Zernike:  Thank you, and thanks for having me.  I’m just going to speak very briefly because I find at these things people have a lot of questions so I want to leave as much time as possible for that.  But let me start making a few brief overview remarks about the Tea Party.

 

The question I always get is, “Who are these people?”  And I think that’s often a question I get from the foreign press in particular.

 

I remember I was at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville earlier this year and there was a big contingent of foreign press.  It’s sort of interesting because at first they said there wasn’t going to be any press allowed.  Then they said well there could be some press.  So as a result the local paper was not allowed to attend, but there was a huge contingent of foreign press.

 

I remember speaking to some of the foreign reporters and they said their editors back home were having trouble understanding this because they were still, to their mind, Obama was still this very popular figure and they couldn’t understand that there would be any popular opposition to him and this was sort of baffling to them.

 

So to give you sort of the statistics portrait of who are these people, the New York Times did a poll in April of tea party supporters.  These results have been backed up.  We found that 18 percent of Americans describe themselves as Tea Party supporters.  A more recent survey of the Times found it at 19 percent.  But it’s held fairly steady.  I think Gallup has found it at 30 percent, but again, it’s somewhere in that range.  Those are people who say they’re Tea Party supporters.  They’re not necessarily people who have gone to a rally or have given money to the movement or to any of these groups.  People who had gone to a rally or given money to a Tea Party group was a much smaller percentage, it was four percent of Americans.

 

But I think you have to pay attention to the Tea Party supporters, because of course they’re the people who are going to be likely to support Tea Party candidates or conservative candidates, candidates who come off as a Tea Party candidate in the election.

 

The population was disproportionately male, white, and over the age of 45 with a heavy contingent over the age of 65. 

 

One of the central contradictions of the movement has been that as much as this is a smaller government movement wanting less spending and less government intervention in our lives, about half the people of the supporters were on Medicare or Social Security or lived with someone who was.  Of course these are the biggest government programs in the country.  These are the chief areas that are driving up the national debt.

 

As much as, again, the Tea Party supporters tend to be male, white and older, it has been interesting to me to watch as I’ve reported on this over the last year, and I talk about this a lot in my book, how there are some differences.  If you go out and look at who’s organizing the Tea Party, the Tea Party was really started by and continues to be organized by younger people, often in their 20s and 30s who generally come to the movement with a Libertarian background.  That is to say believing in smaller government and much lower spending.  They’re very ideological, very idealistic.  I think the older people who sort of swelled the rallies kind of came to the movement later as it grew in the spring of 2009.  I think they were drawn to it largely because of concerns about the economy and about health care, but they came to it with less of a firm ideology.  It was more a frustration or an anger about the economy and the economic situation and where we were.

 

In addition, while the polls will tell you the Tea Party movement is disproportionately male, there’s a large organizing presence by women.  In my book I talked to a number of particularly suburban moms who really come to the movement and speak of it as mothers and feeling that they didn’t necessarily support John McCain in 2008, they don’t necessarily consider themselves Republicans, but they were very worried about the economy and the future that the country is going to be handing to its children.

 

To give you one example, there’s an organizing call by a group called Tea Party Patriots which is this very large umbrella of local groups across the country.  And that call has been going on for nearly two years now, since February of 2009, once a week.  And the majority of people on that call are women.  So the movement continues to be organized largely by women.  I think we see some at least anecdotal evidence of that.

 

I don’t mean to state the obvious, but sometimes I do get this question.  People will say well is there a Tea Party headquarters?  And there isn’t.  We’re not talking about a party in the way we would talk about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.  It takes its name, obviously, from the Boston Tea Party which American school children learn about it as a classic anti-tax protest in 1773.  But you really have to think of it more as a Tea Party movement or as I have come to say, it’s certainly not a party, it is a movement, but it’s also become a state of mind.

 

I think as we look toward the midterm elections, it’s not necessarily important to go out and talk to voters who have been to a Tea Party rally or who attend Tea Party meetings, but to talk to people who consider themselves Team Party sympathizers or Tea Party supporters.

 

In terms of the effect on the midterms, I did a race by race analysis over the last several weeks and we found Tea Party candidates for the House and Senate races, we found 139 Tea Party candidates.  This is just according to our analysis.  It’s going to change if you sort of change your definition of Tea Party candidates.  I define Tea Party candidates as people who had come up from the movement, maybe who had entered politics by organizing a Tea Party or attending Tea Party rallies, but there is also a whole cohort of people who maybe have been politicians on the state or local level or who have run from office before, but they’ve gotten unusual support this year because of the Tea Party movement and they do share its ideology.  It’s a smaller government ideology.  It’s perhaps a desire to phase out Medicare, phase out Social Security.  It’s not unlike the way a lot of Democratic candidates were lifted by an overwhelming favor for Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

 

Of those 139 candidates, most of them in the House are running in districts where the demographics are really lined up against them.  The Democrat is overwhelmingly favored to win.  But there are about, I believe it was between 33 and 35 candidates who are in races that are leaning Republican, follow the Republican, or toss-up.  Meaning that the Tea Party candidates actually stand quite a good chance of having a fairly sizeable caucus if things continue toward that trend.

 

The Tea Party candidates are -- There are sort of two factors when you look at the Tea Party influence in the midterm elections.  One is the energy, the enthusiasm.  And the Tea Party is brought out in the same way Barack Obama did it in 2008, the Tea Party has brought out a huge enthusiastic group of voters, maybe people who wouldn’t otherwise have voted in a midterm election year when voter turnout tends to be lower.

 

But on the other hand is the extremism factor.  So it’s energy versus extremism. 

 

The extremism factor is that the Democrats have portrayed a lot of these candidates as too extreme for their districts.  These are candidates who ran sometimes in moderate districts and beat an establishment Republican candidate.  Christine O’Donnell in Delaware is a perfect example.  It’s a moderate state.  She won because the Tea Party groups were incredibly well organized at a grassroots level.  Groups in Washington that have been helping to steer the Tea Party groups did not want her to win.  It really was a grassroots movement that helped elect Christine O’Donnell.  That said, there is a lot of concern, and establishment Republicans believe this, that she is too extreme to win the Senate seat in that state.

 

So it’s a question of whether the enthusiasm carries the day or whether the extremism carries the day and whether Democrats can make the argument that these candidates are too extreme.

 

What I found when I did this race by race analysis is that Tea Party candidates tend to be doing well in districts where we would expect Republicans to be doing well, and they’re all running as Republicans.  We don’t see any Tea Party Democrats.

 

So they’re running in districts, again, where we would expect Republicans to do well.  On the other hand there are some districts that lean Republican where the Democrat is doing well because there’s a Tea Party candidate and the Democrat has been able to say this candidate is too extreme for this district.

 

I couldn’t find any example of a district that leans Democratic where a Tea Party candidate had made it competitive for Republicans.

 

There have been a lot of independent handicappers who have said that the ultimate test of the Tea Party will be if they end up actually hurting the Republican Party more than they help.  If the extremism ends up hurting them more than the enthusiasm helps them.

 

From this analysis that we did I would say it looks to be almost equal parts energy and extremism.  I think there are some cases where the Tea Party candidate is actually going to help the Democrat win, but certainly you cannot underestimate the power of the number of people coming out, particularly in a midterm election year when you tend to get much lower voter turnout, when the turnout tends to be higher among older Americans who of course are people who are more likely to be Tea Party supporters.

 

With that, I will throw it open to questions.

 

TVE:  My name is Lorenzo Mila.  I come from Spain, from the National Public Television of Spain.

 

I wonder if there is any relation between, I mean is it coincidence that we have the Tea Movement, Tea Party at the same time that Obama, a person like Obama in the White House?  Is he the [inaudible], or is there any relation?

 

Ms. Zernike:  Are you asking about race in particular since he’s the first Black president?

 

TVE:  I don’t know.  It would have been the same, well --

 

Ms. Zernike:  Here’s what I would say.  If you look at history, and my book talks about this quite a bit, if you look at history we’ve seen this kind of conservative insurgency before, particularly with the Barry Goldwater movement in the early ‘60s.  So I think, and that was largely a response to this flowering of liberalism under John Kennedy.  So we have seen things like this before.

 

I think the Tea Party came about because the economy collapsed, because we had a Democratic President in the White House who was proposing an ambitious special agenda, particularly on health care.  I think it came about because we saw the way Bill Clinton was opposed on health care in 1993, 1994.  I think right now the addition we have right now is a very established conservative media structure.  Radio, but also on television, particularly with Fox News. So I think that has been a huge factor in spreading the Tea Party message.

 

Glenn Beck has his 912 groups which are his brand of Tea Party groups which are very influential.  Also I think the Tea Party came about now because it’s a midterm election year.  Again, voter turnout is low, so a smaller group, a group that’s only 18 percent of the American public, can have more of a say.  The voice carries farther because there aren’t as many people in the arena.

 

Kyodo News:  Michelle Jamrisko, Kyodo News.

 

Can you talk about the different organizations that are claiming to kind of organize the Tea Party movement, the Tea Party Patriots Express, and Freedom Works.  Which, if any, might be seen as the most powerful, the most influential, and how their different roles are compared?

 

Ms. Zernike:  That’s a good question.  I think the Tea Party does genuinely start out -- There was a lot of thought early on that this was an Astroturf movement, that these groups had somehow just magically created the Tea Party.  The reality is, there have been groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works trying to create a grassroots movement behind their agenda for years, and they weren’t successful.  I think had they been able to snap their fingers and create the Tea Party movement they would have done it before Barack Obama was elected, not afterwards.  So I think we have to acknowledge that this is a genuinely popular or populist sentiment.

 

That said, there were a number of groups that moved very quickly to capitalize on this.  I think that Freedom Works was the fastest to move and has probably done the most because they not only started out -- They put up a web site within minutes of Rick Santelli’s rant saying “Let’s have a Tea Party”.  They put up a web site telling people how to -- and this is detailed in my book -- telling people how to have a Tea Party rally.  How to get your friends and neighbors involved.  What to write on your signs.  When they had enough people, and they kept this whole email list of Tea Party supporters.  When they had enough people they would go out and they would do training sessions for them.  Now that the election is rolling around they’ve been doing a lot of “get out the vote” for Tea Party candidates.  So I think they’ve been very influential.

 

The Tea Party Express I think has been hugely influential.  It’s run by two Republican consultants out of California.  Other more grassroots Tea Party groups call them the Astroturf Express because they don’t even think it’s genuine.  But there’s no denying that the money they have brought to the campaign has been huge.  They spent a lot of money for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, for Jim Miller in Alaska, they’ve spent money against Harry Reid in Nevada.  So Tea Party Express I think has been influential in terms of money, and obviously they’ve done, I think it’s three or four bus tours, four bus tours now, across the country, sort of getting people up at rallies.

 

Americans for Prosperity which is funded by the Koch brothers, Koch Industries, which is sort of everyone’s favorite bogeyman, they’ve been around for a while.  Frankly, I think they’re more influential or their power is more against initiatives like the roll-back of greenhouse gas legislation in California.  They came a little bit later to the Tea Party.  They weren’t as influential in organizing the Tea Party groups, but once the Tea Party groups were organized they did give them the means to rally against health care.  They did bus tours against health care.  Again, they’re working in California.  Now that these Tea Party groups are established, they’re going to local Tea Party groups and helping them set up “get out the vote” centers in various places for election night.  So I think they’re influential.

 

Tea Party Patriots is I would say the most, I think I said this earlier, the most sort of grassroots of them in that there is a national structure, but I think they try to be in touch with these local groups.

 

That said, there’s so much in-fighting between these groups.  There’s another group called Tea Party Nation which organized the convention in Nashville in February.  There was sort of a big fight between Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Nation about who could lay claim to being the more authentic Tea Party group.  So I think you're going to get a lot of debate.

 

Tea Party Nation tends to be more a social networking site for Tea Partiers.  I think of it as the Facebook for Tea Partiers.

 

Canal +:  (New York)  Hello, my name is Claire Derville.  I am with French Magazine Lajie.

 

My question is more focused on President Obama.  I would like to know, how do you explain the downfall of the President?  And what can he do to regain momentum?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I don’t know that I would write President Obama off completely, and I don’t know that this is the downfall of him.  He’s got two years which it’s a cliché to say it but it’s also true, that two years is an eternity in American politics.  Probably in politics anywhere, but I know more about American politics than I do elsewhere.

 

Again, I think this was a reaction to the economic collapse.  I think it was a reaction to proposing a fairly ambitious agenda, particularly on health care.  And I think it’s opposition to a Democrat.  These are people who describe themselves as very conservative.  It’s not unexpected that they would oppose a President who they see as liberal.  But I don’t think it’s his downfall.  I think Democrats have actually started to wake up a bit.

 

One of the things I think that happened was I think Democrats, there were so many new Democrats brought to politics in 2008, so many young voters, so many voters from minority backgrounds, who were really energized and they worked on this two year campaign to elect President Obama.  And after he was elected there was a bit of a sense that their work was done.  And even though the President said I’m going to need your help in this.  Don’t leave me, I can’t do this on my own, people were tired, they had election fatigue.  They thought that Obama was so wonderful that he’d be able to convince anyone to do anything, and that just didn’t work out to be the case.

 

So I think in many respects the Tea Party was able to kind of come up through this void where Democrats were not necessarily working on behalf of Obama’s agenda.  Also there are Democrats on the left who were disillusioned with Obama so therefore were not going to defend his case.

 

Kyodo News:  My name is Toru Takei of Kyodo News.  A Japanese wire service.

 

A quick question, would it be possible to say how many Tea Party members are out there?  Can you give us a number?

 

Ms. Zernike:  That is a good and difficult question.  Tea Party Patriots claim, I think I saw somewhere they claim 15 million members.  That would be hundreds of groups in each state with 2000 members each, and that’s just not possible.  Not that it’s not possible, it’s unlikely.

 

I don’t know.  Again, I guess I would encourage you to do the math.  Eighteen percent of Americans call themselves tea party supporters, four percent say that they have been to a meeting or a rally or have given money.  So it is a fairly small percentage.  I think it’s probably maybe millions, but certainly not 15 million.

 

Romanian National Public TV:  My name is Nicolae Milinescu.  I come from the Romanian Television, the national station.

 

My question is some of the people inside the movement pretend that they managed to take the Republicans away from the Bush policy.  So to what extent do you think that this is actually happening?

 

Ms. Zernike:  They claim to have moved away from the Bush agenda?  Well, I think certainly among the people who started the movement, and again some of the people I profile in the book talk about this explicitly.  One woman says that people didn’t get what conservatives didn’t like about Bush.  Certainly a lot of conservatives stood by Bush, but they were offended by the spending.  And they were offended by things like the expansion of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program. 

 

I think to the extent that people in the Tea Party see themselves as opposed to big spending, they have now refocused the debate on cutting spending and reducing the size of government.  So I guess you could argue that’s a move away from Bush policies.

 

That said, the criticism has been made, and it is fair, these people did not come out to criticize -- most of them.  Groups like Freedom Works were opposing Bush on spending, but this vast popular movement was not opposing Bush on spending.  I think that’s probably because they do consider themselves conservative Republicans and figured it was a Republican in the White House was better than the alternative.

 

But yes, I do think that they have refocused the debate.

 

One thing that was really striking to me early on about the Tea Party supporters I talked to was that they didn’t want to talk about social issues.  I would ask people what about abortion?  What about this candidate and his position on abortion?  Or this candidate and his position on gay marriage?  They would brush me off.  It was just like stop talking about this irrelevant issue.

 

I think when you drill down on that a little bit they would talk about how they felt that their Republican party had gone astray in focusing too much on social issues.  That for instance in I think it was 2002 the Senate spent all this time debating whether this woman in Florida, Terry Schiavo, should live or die.  She was in a vegetative state, or they debated whether she was in a vegetative state.  And that was a distraction from talking about what the Republican party should be about which is smaller government and less federal spending.

 

So I think that even establishment Republicans who have butted heads with the Tea Party do agree that the Tea Party has shifted the discussion back toward the sort of economic conservatism as opposed to social conservatism and they’re actually happy to have the debate shift because they think that social conservative issues had actually been divisive and are not winning issues for them because it turns people off.

 

Swiss TV:  (New York)  [Harth Honager] with Swiss TV.

 

You mentioned that it’s a grassroots movement, no headquarters, and also no leader at the moment.  I see a couple of politicians trying to establish themselves as Tea Party leaders, first and foremost Sarah Palin.  What is the acceptance of those people trying to make themselves Tea Party leaders within the movement?

 

Ms. Zernike:  That’s a great question.  I think people tend to equate Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.  One of the most fascinating things to me, and this has been backed up by polls and by focus groups and by interviews that I’ve done is that people in the Tea Party like Sarah Palin, they think she’s amusing, they want to go hear her to speak, and when she gives a speech they’re on their chairs cheering and some of them are saying “Run Sarah Run”, but the majority of them are like other Americans.  The numbers were very similar to polls of other Americans.  They don’t think she’s qualified to be President.  And they don’t think that she, a lot of them don’t think she should run for President.  They don’t think she’ll stand up against President Obama very well. 

 

So they like someone else like maybe a Mitt Romney who is someone who doesn’t come off as authentic to them, but he’s a businessman so he could fight on the economic issues, he looks presidential -- very tall and thin and handsome.  But there are other people they like. 

 

They like the Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels who’s gotten that state out of a particularly bad economic situation. Chris Christie in New Jersey who is slashing his state’s budget largely by taking on unions, particularly the teachers union.  He’s just said that he doesn’t want to build this tunnel across the Hudson River which many commuters would tell you you need, because the state can’t afford it.

 

So they tend to be looking for those sorts of economic conservative heroes.

 

But I would say in our poll the person who was most popular was Glenn Beck of Fox News.  I don’t think they necessarily want Glenn Beck to run for office, but they do rush home to turn on their televisions at 5:00 o’clock every day to see what he’s saying.

 

EFE:  Teresa Bouza with EFE, an international newswire from Spain.

 

I wonder if you could tell us which tea party backed candidates you think have political potential.  And also we were talking about extremist views.  Like you must know them very well.  So which kind of statement kind of most surprises you?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I think the statements that have gotten the most attention are things like Christine O’Donnell saying “separation of church and state is not in the constitution.”  I think to be generous with her, she was expressing a commonly held Tea Party view which is that, and it’s correct, the phrase, “separation of church and state” does not appear in the constitution.  However, it is generally accepted by constitutional scholars that the concept is enshrined in the constitution in the First Amendment, in what we call the anti-establishment clause, that “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion.”

 

There’s a very popular book that Glenn Beck made popular among the Tea Party movement called The Five Thousand Year Leap.  It was written in 1981.  It was sort of a furor at the time, but it purports to view the constitution through the real words of the founders, the real thoughts of the founding fathers.  The book says that the founding fathers had natural law or God’s law in mind when they wrote the constitution.  That they did not want separation of church and state.  That they envisioned much closer interaction between church and state, much more that the state would be promoting religion.  Well, that the phrase “separation of church and state”, and this is true, did not come in the constitution, it was in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson years later.  And what this book argues is that Jefferson was referring to the federal government, and that the federal government was not supposed to set up a religion.  However, they will argue, the states -- what Jefferson meant, and Jefferson’s words don’t say this but they would argue this is what he meant, Jefferson was saying that the states were free to do so.  That he was referring only to the federal government.  So that the state governments should be encouraging religion.  They should be encouraging the study of the Bible in schools.  They should be encouraging religious groups to meet on public school property, which is something the Supreme Court has said they should not be allowed to do.  So that’s one thing, this notion that there is no separation of church and state.

 

Something that is, I don’t know if it’s fair to call it extreme, but a lot of them have talked about phasing out Medicare and Social Security.  Again, this tends to come from the sort of libertarian strain of the movement.  This is something that’s wildly unpopular among average Americans.  George Bush, after he won in 2004, started to talk about privatizing Social Security, and the issue went nowhere.  So that’s one thing.

 

But look, there is also a huge Tea Party -- I think the movement genuinely starts out as concerned about economic and fiscal conservatism, but it has attracted some people who feel that a Tea Party rally is a place to express some “out there” views.  So they’ve raised issues about whether President Obama is a citizen, and the presentation of his birth certificate by the State of Hawaii has not convinced them that he is a citizen of this country and therefore eligible to be President.

 

The same thing with them saying Barack Obama is a Muslim when of course during the campaign they were going on about how he’d been a member of this Christian church in Chicago for 20 years.  So I’d say those are some of the things.

 

Other Tea Party candidates who are likely to win, I think Mark Rubio, although he says he’s not a Tea Party candidate, in the Senate in Florida, has gotten huge support from Tea Party groups.  He is likely to win, I would say.

 

Rand Paul in Kentucky who is kind of the original Tea Party candidate because he came to the movement through Tea Party rallies and he definitely embraces a lot of these views.  He is someone who I would say stands a good chance of winning because Kentucky has had Republican senators before.

 

Christine O’Donnell is a case where the seat was expected to go into Republican hands and now it’s likely to go to a Democrat.

 

Ken Buck in Colorado I think is looking good, but things can turn around.

 

I think the Tea Party has put things very much on an ice edge because they do say things that come off as crazy.  Abolishment of the Federal Department of Education.  I think people look and say oh, let’s get rid of that bureaucracy.  We can save so much money.  They don’t realize until the Democrats point it out, that this would mean getting rid of federal student loans and grants; this would mean no federal aid to state schools.

 

So as the Democrats continue to push this extremism idea, we’re going to be shifting up until the last few days.

 

Sueddeutsche Zeitung:  My name is Chris Wernike.  I’m working for the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

 

I’d like to ask you to take a little bit more long term perspective.  If we compare the Tea Party movement with like for example the movement of the left in the late ‘60s which also faded away at a certain point in time but it had a very long-lasting effect on society and values also.

 

If you compare the late ‘60s to the movement with the Tea Party movement today, what is similar, what is certainly different, and how long will the Tea Party last?

 

Ms. Zernike:  One thing that’s different is simply the demographics.  The Tea Party, we’re still talking about, again there’s a core of young people supporting this, but it’s primarily the people who are going to the rallies and who mostly describe themselves as supporters are older.  So that’s a big difference there.

 

In terms of the long term effect, I think a lot of what they’re talking about is, and I think it’s hard to understand often for the foreign press or for foreigners.  For instance, I went to university in Canada, and I think some Canadians look at -- my mother’s Canadian and my father’s Dutch.  I think my family would look at this country and say how can you not offer health insurance?  How can you not take care of your sick?  How can you not take care of their elderly?  And yes, there are problems with our system, but they don’t understand this notion that millions of people in this country would go without health insurance.  But I do think the Tea Party has revived something that Ronald Reagan talked about.  On the campaign trail you hear a little bit of the discussion of “welfare queens” again.  The Tea Party people are middle class people who have worked very hard to earn their place in the middle class.  They feel that their tax money is going to support people who aren’t working very hard.  They have not been convinced of the argument that we need to provide health care or benefits or any kind of public safety net to people in need.  I think that’s a huge issue.  I think it’s a huge cultural issue.  What is our responsibility to others?  Among the kind of libertarian core of this movement is a feeling that it is immoral or it is essential theft to take taxes from one group for the benefit of another.

 

You asked about extreme ideas.  There’s this idea that the 16th Amendment which establishes a progressive income tax, is unconstitutional. 

 

So I think it’s a larger, long term question about where we’re going to spend our money, where it is valuable to spend our money, and what our responsibility is.  What our social responsibility is.

 

Norwegian Newspaper:  (New York) Andrew Skyber, I’m from a Norwegian Newspaper.

 

Are there any relations to the more traditional fringe group, the right wing of American politics, like a John Birch Society, or more recent groups like the [Inaudible] Baptist Church?  Are there double memberships or the same persons?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I would say, again, I think the Tea Party starts out with people who are genuinely concerned about fiscal matters.  As it grows, it has attracted people who see this as an opportunity to express some outrageous thoughts.  For instance in my book I went to a course on the constitution that was being taught in Elkhart, Indiana which is a city that has huge unemployment, it’s the RV or recreational vehicle capital of the world.  And at this course on the constitution there was a table in the front set up by the local John Birch Society.  So certainly, yes, there has been a resurgence of these groups I think particularly in places like the inland Northwest where we saw a lot of the militia groups in the ‘90s.  There has been some attaching of militia groups to the Tea Party movement.

 

Look, I think every movement has its fringe.  I don’t think that that fringe defines the Tea Party movement.  I think focusing on that opens up the risk that you're going to ignore the fact that there are a lot of these Tea Party people who aren’t crazy and who aren’t backed, just very well organized and who are voting in the midterms.

 

I think one of the mistakes people made early on and mistakes Democrats made early on was to dismiss these people as all freaks, and they’re just living out somewhere, and they’re crazy and have jobs with guns somewhere.

 

I think there are a lot of people who look a lot more like average Americans, like your neighbors.

 

There is a lot of overlap, in our poll we found a lot of overlap between evangelicals and Tea Party supporters.  However, again, the Tea Party distinguishes itself in that it really proclaims for the most part to not want to talk about social issues.  Because there is this overlap, it has been very hard for Tea Party groups to completely keep those issues out.  It’s not so hard to keep issues out like abortion and gay marriage, but for instance there are some Tea Party groups, Tea Party Patriots is one of them, that does not want to talk about immigration.  They think that’s a distraction, they think it’s too polarizing an issue.  There are many many many local Tea Party groups, particularly in the border states, that are almost predominantly focused on immigration and a sense that immigration has let a lot of people in the country who are here sort of, again, living off everyone else’s tax money.

 

Publico:  Kathleen Gomes from a Portuguese newspaper Publico.

 

I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more about the campaigning, the message of the Tea Party supporters.  I read that they’re actually using the same message that the Obama campaign used back in 2008.  And whether or not, despite they’re mostly male and white as you said, are they actually targeting different demographic groups in their campaign?  Thank you.

 

Ms. Zernike:  I think you’re absolutely right, and again I talk about this in the book quite a bit.  As much as they are conservative and right wing, they have absolutely looked to the left for their lessons, particularly in getting out the vote and in organizing people.

 

There is a person who I profile in my book, and she’s in Pennsylvania.  She goes to her local Republican party headquarters in 2008, and she says look, I’m not crazy about John McCain, but I really want to work for you because what Barack Obama says about negotiating with Iran and Syria scares me.  So what can I do?  She feels they kind of, “Thanks dear, but we don’t need you.”  So she goes home and she signs up for emails from MoveOn.Org which is a liberal advocacy group not because she had become a lefty overnight, but because she thinks they’re doing this amazing job organizing for Obama and organizing for left wing causes and she wants to learn how they’re doing that.

 

As I researched this book, over and over and over I heard that and saw it, that people were looking in particular at the way he used social media -- Twitter and Facebook, and Meet Up which Howard Dean also used in 2003 and 2004.  But also just more sort of traditional grassroots methods.  A lot of Tea Party supporters had become precinct captains in their local neighborhoods which means you're the person out there rallying people, making sure that on election day everyone in your neighborhood has voted.  This is your role for the local party.  So there’s a lot of knocking on doors, real sort of on the ground, get out the vote work.

 

One thing that was interesting to me, I wrote a story about this I think it was in August about Freedom Works.  I went to one of their sessions where they were training people in get out the vote.  You asked about who they were targeting.  It was interesting the way they told people to find Tea Party supporters.  They said go to houses with American flags because they’re likely to be conservative.  Go to houses where you see Marine insignia, because Marines are likely to be conservative Republicans.  They told them to take dog biscuits with them, because then you would, if there was a dog there they would see you as a dog person to dog person, there would be an affinity and they would be more inclined to accept you.  It wasn’t enough to even call to thank, you had to write a thank you note to people who had been especially supportive in the end.

 

Again, it’s this real on the ground, get out the vote local grassroots initiative which is largely, as you say, this is in many ways that Barack Obama wrapped up the caucus states in 2008.

 

Phoenix TX: I’m Ching-Yi Chang.  I’m with Phoenix TV from Hong Kong.

 

I would like to know, some analysts state that while Republicans for trade, but Tea Party tend to more support protectionism.  How do you see, if elected, how would that affect U.S. foreign policy?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I would say that this is one of the areas where there’s some inconsistency.  For instance, one of the people who I interview in my book was a laid off, he had been an executive for an auto parts company in Michigan, and he was laid off, and he’s fighting very hard for a smaller government movement.  But then he said to me the government let the auto companies go under.  I said really?  I said I thought they bailed them out.  He said no, because if you look at Japan and Korea, they make everyone drive Japanese and Korean cars.  Why isn’t our government doing that?  So there was this, on the one hand get the government out of my life; on the other hand, have the government help my industry so that my job doesn’t go away.

 

It’s a little bit the same, we’ve seen a lot of coal miners showing up to more recent Tea Party rallies because they’re opposed to Cap and Trade because they think that Cap and Trade is going to send job overseas, or there is going to be less emphasis on coal.  Again, there’s a desire for a certain amount of protectionism for the coal industry.

 

So I think this is a contradiction and it’s just one of the contradictions -- It’s much easier to campaign as a Tea Party candidate than it is to govern as one.  How this plays out after the elections, I don’t really know.  I think it’s one of the factors that is going to make it very difficult to figure out what the ideology is and what the governing agenda is here.

 

Danish Broadcasting Corp.:  Stine Dragsted, Danish Broadcasting.

 

Could you elaborate on the role of a person like Glenn Beck?  You say he’s very popular.  Also about this not only being about election and midterms, but a larger movement about how you view America and take America back.  You talk about distrust being a driving force.  And they seem to have this brand of doomsday or conspiracy theory.  I’m just thinking about that connection.

 

Ms. Zernike:  What I’ve said before is I think Glenn Beck is kind of the Oprah of the Tea Party movement.  [Laughter].  A lot of these books that they’re reading, they’re reading Free to Kayak again, they’re reading [inaudible] again, they’re reading this Five Thousand Year Leap which is the book that I talked about.  These are all books that he’s recommended.  I’m not sure that he’s recommended the [inaudible], but he made Kayak a best seller.  He made this Five Thousand Year a best seller, which is the same thing that Oprah does.

 

When you go to rallies you do hear, as I said, I think I said this, you hear a lot of things that come off a Glenn Beck chalkboard.  The President is a Marxist.  The President’s advisors are Marxist.  We’re on the road to socialism.  So I think a lot of the language is coming from there.  And a lot of the polarization is coming from there.

 

I think a lot of what Beck talks about -- I think anything that comes off as for the social welfare becomes socialism very quickly, and that very quickly becomes Marxism, Communism, which is sort of funny.  You think about 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But it’s made it very hard to talk about those things, and I think it is reflecting this sentiment brought on by the collapse of the economy that we don’t have a lot of money to go around, and do we really want to be spending it on this?  And do we really have an obligation to help other people to the degree that we’ve been helping them?

 

And other things.  For instance today Jim DeMint who is a Senator from South Carolina, someone who is very popular among Tea Party people, has proposed getting rid of public funding for radio and television, so PBS and NPR.  And again, I think there are a lot of Tea Party people who would say yes, absolutely.  Not only are they promoting a liberal agenda, but is this really the way we want to spend our money?  And really the market is the better place to sort out these questions.  We should not have government supporting a television network or a radio network.

 

I just think it’s a question again about what the role of government is and what the role of the individual is.

 

One of the things that Beck talks about mostly is this notion that the role of government is to protect private property.  This movement is largely based on the school of thought known as Austrian economics.  And in that school of thought the government’s role is to protect private property.  That means to protect private property from taxes.  They don’t think that -- Taxation is theft.

 

Again, I just think it’s a larger question.  I think as the economy rebounds there will feel less pocketbook pressure.  And so some of the sentiment may ease.  But I think it’s absolutely going to be with us for a while.

 

Globovision:  Sonia Schott with Globovision, Venezuela.

 

I was wondering if you can comment on how the Tea Party gets the money, raises money to move forward.  I read something today in the Washington Post regarding [John Berman] the congressman, trying to put money in the Tea Party or something.

 

Ms. Zernike:  Oh Boehner.  I would say that when the Tea Party started it didn’t need a lot of money.  What you needed were a group of angry people, frustrated people, and you needed some signs.  That doesn’t take a lot of money.

 

As the campaign has gone on, and obviously as we look toward the midterm elections, money is huge, particularly with advertising.  So a lot of these big groups have come in with money.  It’s not a huge amount of money.  Freedom Works, for instance, is spending $10 million which is not a huge amount of money.  But groups like the Tea Party Express, their money has been influential in terms of buying ads.  They support Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.

 

I think the National Republican Committees -- the senatorial committee and the congressional committee -- have supported some of these candidates because they are the nominees in these races.  So this candidate Rich Iott, who was the guy -- The story today was that John Boehner had given money, I believe it was John Boehner had given money to either Richard or John Iott in Ohio, who it was revealed about ten days ago, it turns out he for many weekends of the last several years has liked to dress up as a Nazi.  He and his friends all go and dress up as Nazis and this is how they get their fun.  So Bainer had given him I think it was $2000 or something like that. 

 

So it’s not surprising that Republicans would have supported their nominees.  What you might wonder is should they have vetted their nominees a bit better.  Again, this is the extremism factor in the Tea Party candidates. 

 

The Tea Party pushed the Republicans to get the establishment out.  They said we don’t want the establishment choosing our candidates.  We want to choose the candidates.  We want the people to choose the candidates.  We want the primaries to choose the candidates.  So really the Tea Party was most active in the primary races in choosing candidates and a lot of them they’ve chosen are maybe not ready for prime time, or they’re very far to the right, so they’ve struggled, they’ve had some difficulties.

 

So yes, the committees have given them money.  I think the big organizations have given more money to these Tea Party candidates.

 

TELAM:  Hello, my name is Melissa Cabo.  I’m from TELAM News Agency of Argentina.

 

After what happened in Delaware with Christine O’Donnell, I’d like to know what is going on inside the Republican party with this new movement.

 

Ms. Zernike:  What does this reflect?

 

TELAM: Are they in this together?

 

Ms. Zernike:  Well, that depends on which state you're talking about.

 

One of the things that’s interesting about the Tea Party movement is that they’ve done exactly what the Democrats wanted.  The Republicans wanted to make this election a referendum on Obama and a referendum on the Democrats’ control of Congress and a referendum on the economy.  Therefore it was going to go landslide to the Republicans because the economy’s not doing well.

 

The Tea Party candidates have made this much more a race by race thing.  The Democrats wanted to be able to talk about individual candidates, so some of these individual candidates who have these somewhat strange backgrounds or strange views, or views that come off as extreme to many Americans, have not, the Democrats have been able to make a lot of that.  So again, it’s become kind of a race by race thing.

 

In some cases the Republican party has said okay, we don’t like the person that you chose.  I would say Ken Buck in Colorado is a perfect example.  The Senate candidate in Colorado.  The Republican party, he was not their choice.  He was not the establishment choice.  He won.  The Republican establishment has said okay, we think this guy can win, we’re going to put a lot of money behind him. 

 

Christine O’Donnell, different scenario.  They don’t think she can win.  The Tea Party believes she can win.  The Republican establishment gave her a token donation, but for the most part she’s been on her own.

 

So in some races the Republicans have gotten behind the Tea Party candidate; in other races they’ve said you’re on your own and we’re not going to be with you.

 

CNN Turk:  This is Aylin Yazan from CNN Turk.

 

When you look at the world history, like the last 50 years maybe, can you say that there was a similar group to this Tea Party?  Making similarities makes it more understandable for the world audience.  Is there any group like that in the world, an example?

 

Ms. Zernike:  It’s interesting, I heard this report on the BBC, I don’t know if anybody heard it, about the English Defense League and how they’re comparing it to the Tea Party.  I thought that was a little extreme, the comparison.  I don’t think the Tea Party is primarily motivated by [inaudible] phobia which seems to be what that is about, although I don’t know much about it.

 

Again, I tend to go back to the Goldwater movement because the parallels -- the libertarian ideology is so much the same.  I’m sure most of you were aware that Rand Paul the Senate candidate, who is very much the Tea Party candidate in Kentucky, got into trouble immediately after he was nominated, immediately after he won the primary, for saying on national television that he did not believe, that in principle, he did not support some of the provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, namely he did not think that business owners should be required to serve Blacks.

 

This is a libertarian, small government view, that the government shouldn’t be dictating how people behave and what they should and shouldn’t do.  This is something that Barry Goldwater got in trouble for talking about as well.  He was talking about it in 1964 so it was much more contemporary.

 

So I would say that is the closest parallel.  Also in the way that, as I said, it was a reaction to sort of this flowering of liberalism, and it was very much a lower spending, a move for lower spending and lower taxes.

 

Canal +:  (New York)  It’s Claire again, from Lajie, the French magazine.

 

You’ve just partly answered my question.  Actually I was curious to know if you could compare the Tea Party to some extreme right parties that have flourished in Europe.  I’m thinking most particularly about the [Pro Nationale] in France.  After all, on some issues they are kind of using the same arguments on immigration, economical protectionism, even some moral issues.  So could you compare the two phenomenon, or do you think it’s too much to say?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I don’t know enough to speak about this intelligently, I’m afraid.  I would caution on seeing the Tea Party -- I would see caution on seeing the Tea Party as mainly concerned or even largely concerned with moral issues which is I think something you just mentioned. 

 

And I would caution on, a lot of people, including myself, when this first came out, sort of thought these are Christian conservatives, these are traditional conservatives that we’ve seen for years now.  They are different.  These are different people who are coming into politics.  They may have some overlap, but they really do for the most part, true Tea Party people do want to talk about economic conservatism.

 

I think immigration has come into it because people feel that immigration is an economic issue.  So there’s certainly some overlap there.  But they’re not talking about faith and family in the same way that conservatives in this country have for a couple of decades now.

 

Seoul Shinmun Daily:  My name is Kyun Mi Kim.  I’m from Korea, the Seoul Shinmun.

 

You said there are about 139 Tea Party candidates running.  Based on your analysis, about how many percentage do you think they might have the chance of getting elected this November?  There are discussions about the possibility of a third party.  Can they move on to be a third party?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I think again, to go back to the numbers, of those 139 I would say I think in the House we had 33 who were in solid Republican districts, leaning Republican districts or toss-up districts.  So I think it’s fully possible you could see 25, maybe even all 33, maybe even more than that who we’re not anticipating.  In the Senate I think I would say four or five?  But again, when you look at the number of open seats, that’s actually a pretty good rate of success.

 

In terms of a third party, remember MoveOn.Org did not start a third party.  And when you look at polls again and again and again, Tea Party supporters say they do not want to start a third party.  They look at the example of Ross Perot and the Reform Party in the 1990s and they say it didn’t work.  All it did was divide the vote and drive the election to Bill Clinton.

 

So I think most of them believe -- There are certainly some people who think we need a third party, but most Tea Party supporters think that history has shown they don’t do well.

 

Swiss Broadcasting Company:  Peter Voegeli with Swiss Radio.

 

I was recently in the South and you mentioned in your book that some topics of the Tea Party movement gives an echo of southern topics like states rights and less government.  Next year we have the 150 anniversary of the Civil War.  Do you think it will pop up again and these Tea Party people will kind of support these southerners who say it’s not about slavery, it was about states rights?  Do you think it will resonate next year?

 

Ms. Zernike:  I think the states rights argument is already resonating.  I don’t think it’s going to flower again because of the Civil War because I think in fact the Tea Party supporters don’t want to make that comparison.  When they talk about states rights, they’re not saying we want to go back to slavery.  I think primarily their concern is health care and they don’t believe that the federal government should be able to impose a mandate to have health insurance.  Therefore, they want the states to be able to nullify that.

 

I think there has been a push in a number of states by a number of Tea Party groups to have a nullification, to allow states to nullify federal laws that they do not agree with.  So this was primarily health care, but it’s also on some gun control laws.  So I think we’re already seeing a states rights movement across the country.  There’s a group called the 10th Amendment Center that monitors all of this, if you're more interested in that.  But yes, we’re absolutely seeing a push for more local control.  I think it extends from health care, education, gun control, all those issues.

 

Thank you.

 

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