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The Tea Party Movement

A Short Timeline History


Originating as a paleoconservative response to the Bush and Obama stimulus bills, the Tea Party movement gave supporters of Ron Paul's unsuccessful but energetic 2008 presidential campaign a clear policy agenda. As the movement grew, it became increasingly indistinguishable from the Republican Party mainstream - and, where it was distinguishable, harmful to the party's reputation.


Ultraconservative chemical industrialists David and Charles Koch co-found Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). Bolstered by donations from Citibank, General Electric, General Motors, and Koch Industries, the organization promotes the paleoconservative fiscal policy agenda that will later be associated with the Tea Party movement.


Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) splits into two organizations: FreedomWorks, which provides funding and institutional support for the Tea Party movement, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which will go on to organize an astroturf anti-health care reform movement called Patients United Now in 2009. Both organizations, by all appearances, played a critical role in the outcome of the 2010 national elections.

August 2007

Longshot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul unexpectedly wins the Ames, Iowa Republican presidential straw poll due to the support of resurgent paleoconservative voters who are loyal to the Republican Party but oppose incumbent president George W. Bush's neoconservative policy agenda. Ron Paul becomes the face of paleoconservative fiscal policy, which had not been seriously represented in the national policy debate since Ross Perot's independent presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996.

November 2007

On November 5th, 2007, Ron Paul raises $4.3 million online during a 24-hour period - stunning national observers who had dismissed him as a fringe candidate, and nearly reaching John Kerry's 2004 single-day fundraising record of $5.7 million.

December 2007

On December 16th, the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Ron Paul hosts an online "Tea Party" fundraiser - destroying John Kerry's fundraising record by raising $6 million, the most money ever raised by a presidential candidate in U.S. history. Although Ron Paul's donations fail to secure primary victories, they do demonstrate the power of traditional, paleoconservative Republican voters. Some observers begin to refer to these voters as Tea Party supporters. Although Rep. Paul was not the only public figure to use the imagery of the Tea Party to support low-tax policies, his campaign galvanized dissenting Republican and independent conservative voters around a more comprehensive fiscal policy platform.

November 2008

Democratic nominee Barack Obama soundly defeats Republican nominee John McCain in the presidential election. The Tea Party movement begins to attract support from former Bush supporters who do not agree with the Ron Paul movement, as well as fringe racists who take issue with the election of the United States' first black president.

September 2009

In the wake of the 2008 presidential election, numerous small groups began to organize around the idea of representing the new Tea Party movement's policy agenda. One of these organizations was the Tea Party Express, founded in 2009, whose executive director Mark Williams quickly made headlines by referring to President Obama as an "Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug."

The racially-charged imagery of his remark only increased his credibility in some sectors of the Tea Party movement, but Williams was ultimately forced to resign following a purportedly "satirical" blog post a year later, written in the voice of NAACP president Ben Jealous, in which Williams expressed skepticism about "coloreds" and called on President Lincoln to withdraw the abolition of slavery.

July 2010

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MO) creates the House Tea Party Caucus, effectively incorporating the Tea Party movement into the institutional structure of the Republican Party.

October 2010

The NAACP releases a report, Tea Party Nationalism, that documents the presence of white nationalist activists and groups within the Tea Party movement.

November 2010

Republicans capture a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives during the national elections, and their success is directly attributed to the strength of the Tea Party movement.

August 2011

Political scientists David E. Campbell of the University of Notre Dame and Robert D. Putnam of Harvard University uncover evidence of both racism and partisan identity within the Tea Party movement. As Campbell and Putnam wrote in a New York Times editorial:
Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s "origin story." Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today ...

They are [also] overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
Campbell and Putnam also cite the Tea Party movement's diminishing popularity, which appears to correlate with its incorporation within the Republican Party apparatus.

September 2011

CNN and the Tea Party Express jointly host a Republican presidential debate centering on issues that are perceived to be important to Tea Party voters.
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