Pop quiz: What’s wrong with the tea party?

Tim Skillern
Yahoo News
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FILE - In this June 19, 2013, file photo, Tea Party activists rallying in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The movement’s top strategists concede the tea party is quieter today, by design. It has matured, they said, from a protest movement to a political movement. Large-scale rallies have given way to strategic letter-writing and phone-banking campaigns to push or oppose legislative agendas in Washington and state capitals. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Why is the tea party struggling?

(a) It reached too far too soon

(b) It confused who its political enemies were

(c) It hired the wrong marketing firm

(d) It let false impressions browbeat reality

(e) It's not — everything is fine, move along, there’s nothing to see here

We boiled down those multiple-choice answers from perspectives five conservative voters and registered Republicans provided to Yahoo News on Thursday in reaction to a Gallup poll that said Americans’ support of the tea party is near an all-time low.

Twenty-two percent, the polling firm says, back the tea party. That’s down from 32 percent shortly after the 2010 midterm elections, when the GOP captured the U.S. House. Half of respondents said they neither support nor oppose the tea party, or simply have no opinion.

So what is wrong with the tea party — if anything? Here’s how conservatives and some tea party members diagnosed it.

The tea party shrugged as perception bullied reality

Justin Haskins lives in Chicago:

I am not surprised at the plunge in the polls.

When many Americans now think of the tea party, all they see is a group of disgruntled Republicans led by anti-establishment politicians who simply want to vote "no" on everything from formula for babies to wheelchairs for grandmas.

The tea party is now viewed as a group that doesn't care about average working people and is only interested in the politics of making life harder for President Obama.

It's simply not true that the tea party members on Capitol Hill uniformly oppose the establishment of government-sponsored health care, higher taxes or any other social program. The accurate position — the one that you simply don't hear about on cable and network television — is that the tea party believes individual communities and states are the powers that should be deciding these issues, not President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid or Rep. John Boehner.

The tea party doesn't want to take away any state's ability to determine for itself any sort of social program it desires; it simply doesn't want out-of-touch politicians in Congress forcing communities who don't support these expensive measures to be forced to implement them or foot the bill.

The tea party marketed its worst features

Suzie Potts lives in Bridgewater, Conn.:

As a conservative with a libertarian bent, [the poll] concerns me, and it's disturbing that a movement created to tout small government is failing at a time of massive government overreach.

The tea party began with Americans calling for a return to small government, and now men like Jerome Corsi use it to spread words of bigotry and conspiracy. Clearly, the tea party has been hijacked.

But there’s good news! The tea party is just a name, and it’s fraught with the marketing attached to it. While that marketing surrounding the tea party is failing, the ideals aren't. A recent Rasmussen Poll shows that 63 percent of us believe most Americans want the government to have less power and less money. This demonstrates that Americans aren't disapproving of the tea party because of its ideals, but perhaps because of its current direction.

This week, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reminded me of the early days of the tea party when compromise was not an option. I had forgotten that.

The tea party demanded too much in its infancy

Vincent Johnson lives in Mooresville, N.C.:

The tea party stands for things noble, true and just, all while government has grown too large, too powerful and autonomous, too wasteful and exceedingly political.

But there’s not a lot of in-between to the tea party.

And it’s shown itself to be divisive and uncompromising.

What the tea party is missing […] is that even if it’s right (which I truly believe it is), it first must increase its influence with voters to win its battles. Tea partiers may accumulate that influence over time, but that won't help immediate issues. Instead of fighting everybody, which includes the current Republican apparatus, why not join forces with the GOP leadership and at least get some of what you want. If we don't compromise at this juncture, we walk away with nothing and look weaker. If the government shuts down and the blame is placed upon conservatives, does the tea party see its 2014 and 2016 support drain?

The tea party is just fine and is, in fact, better for the GOP than the GOP

Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio:

It is a good thing some in the Republican Party have split with more traditional members and created tea party-affiliated groups. The splintering allows voters to see which Republicans are serious about limiting the government, decreasing debt and standing up for conservative values.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was on "Fox and Friends" on Sept. 23 and talked candidly about compromising on Obama's health care law. Paul said, "If the Republicans in the House pass defund, Democrats in the Senate continue to fund — maybe there could be a compromise, where we got rid of some of the taxes, and get rid of some of the bad parts of Obamacare."

Paul's stance here is right in line with the tea party, because if a repeal cannot happen, then getting rid of some of the funding and taxes will be the next best thing. The 21 hour anti-health care rant by Ted Cruz on Sept. 24 was also a great tea party moment. The debate proved that established Republicans really are not interested in lowering the debt or listening to Americans, and they will eventually suffer political fallout from that.

The tea party angered mainline Republicans by bleeding the ranks

John Tures lives in LaGrange, Ga.:

Sure, the tea party was credited with winning the 2010 election. But a closer inspection revealed that many tea party candidates, or those who claimed to be affiliated with the group, blew some very winnable races, leaving the Senate in Democratic hands. Even some of the winners are unlikely to last another term. It was the same case in 2012, where conservative candidates beat moderates in red-state primaries, only to fail in November. This attempt to oust Republicans from within is only bleeding both groups.

Such tea party members should adopt Libertarian Party views, as Sen. Rand Paul has done. Tea party conservatives are learning to abandon their old pro-war, pro-social regulation positions that are ideologically inconsistent with claims of being in favor of small government. Sen. Paul, connected to the tea party, has shown his colleagues how to get things done in Washington, D.C., teaming up with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on drug sentences, unlike fellow tea partiers with the reputation of being the party of "no."

And I can tell you, as a college professor, that those young people who currently favor Obama would go libertarian on social issues and antiwar concerns (along with some disillusioned progressives), providing votes and a future for a new "libeTEArian" alliance. It's where the tea party should marshal its resources, rather than shutting down the government.