I recall being on a panel at some confab a couple of years ago, at the the height of the Tea party boom, talking about the fact that these people were simply the usual suspects in new costumes. People in the audience were reluctant to believe this, wanting to have this group be evidence of a new, trans-partisan populist wave that could be appropriated by the left with the proper appeals. I was skeptical — these folks the same types as the 1963 housewife Rick Perlstein famously quotes in “Before the Storm” saying “I just don’t have time for anything, I’m fighting communism three times a week.” (He wrote about it here.)
After the panel, reporters Adele Stan and Sarah Posner approached me and pointed out that we’d failed to make the point that these were also the usual suspects of the religious right, and they were correct.
The Tea Party-religious right overlap should not be news to RD readers. Last October,the Public Religion Research Institute filled an enormous gap in survey data by conducting a groundbreaking survey which found this symbiosis. “Among the more than 8-in-10 (81%) who identify as Christian within the Tea Party movement,” the survey found, “57% also consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement.” PRRI’s data was important because when we were on the ground reporting, we found this overlap too. At the time, I wrote about our coverage:
At RD, we’ve been telling the story of tea party religion for a while, whether it was the tea party presence at Values Voters Summits, the influence of Mormonism on the movement, or the role of Christian Reconstructionism in tea party politics. Over the past year or more, sources have described to me coalition-building between tea party groups and religious right groups, and the shared essential belief that the country’s founding documents declare God-given individual rights — ones that protect, conservatives say, both people from government “tyranny” and fetuses from abortion. I’ve been told of the enthusiastic reception tea party activists received at the May 2010 Council for National Policy meeting (no surprise, since the CNP has long represented the “three-legged stool” of conservative politics: social, economic, and national security conservatism, all wrapped in the flag and God), despite initial worries that the tea parties inadequately promoted the “life” issues.
On election night last year, I wrote of the “Tea Party Illusion:” “The new Tea Partiers set to come to Washington aren’t avoiding challenging the religious right just because they need it to form a coalition—they are it.” In February, Pew released a survey which similarly found the overlap, too. And today, in an interesting piece in The Awl, Abe Sauer, who spent two years with the Tea Party, concludes: “I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.”
Digby concludes, drawing on Putnam and Campbell, thatt’s good news that the Tea Party brand has lost its luster,” even if it’s just the GOP in different packaging. But I’d caution against liberals feeling too complacent about the religious right’s unpopularity. The “religious right is dead” obituary is frequently written but always turns out to be wrong.