The Tea Party is an American conservative and libertarian movement generated initially by a grassroots response to the libertarian (Republican) candidacy of Congressman Ron Paul. It later expanded and became a target of the Republican party, which has emphasized reduced government spending and tax cutting over a reduction in military spending and a rollback of the Patriot Act and other laws that have severely eroded American civil liberties.
The Tea Party, named after the initial American Tea Party, currently has caucuses in Congress but these are controversial because they are seen as a political formalization of a movement that is not codified as a formal political entity. Those amongst the Tea Party who are more radical and libertarian are suspicious of formal platforms and agendum, believing the movement is weakened by these sorts of activities.
Today, the Tea Party is often identified with Republican politicians such as Sarah Palin and Dick Armey but here, too, there is controversy. Neither Palin nor Armey are considered sufficiently anti-war by many libertarian Tea Party members, though in fact, up to half of the US budget is armament and war-related.
It is true that a Gallup poll at one point showed almost 80% of Tea Partiers consider themselves Republicans and there is a case to be made that the Tea Party emerged as a wing of the Republican Party. On the other hand, a Washington Post survey found 87% of Tea Party organizers claimed their "dissatisfaction with mainstream Republican Party leaders" was "an important factor in the support the group has received so far."
In fact, the Tea Party is a riven movement. There is no doubt that mainstream Republicans, at the behest of the military-industrial complex, have launched an ambitious assault on the Tea Party with the intention of branding it as conservative rather than classical liberal (libertarian). Nonetheless, the movement itself and the dissatisfaction with the status quo goes far beyond the usual conservative/liberal lines that the establishment likes to impose on political activism. It is fueled by a fierce unhappiness with the direction in which America is headed and the chances are that co-opting such a movement will remain difficult until underlying factors are addressed.
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