A panel of journalists and political activists agreed that the Tea Party has become an increasingly important force in American politics at a discussion entitled “The Tea Party: What’s Brewing for the Budget Battle and the Ballot Box,” hosted by the Institute of Politics yesterday.
The speakers focused on the Tea Party’s origins and how it will factor into the current budget debate as well as the upcoming presidential election.
“It’s time for the Republic to return to the people’s hands,” said Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. He was joined by Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, CNN reporter and producer Shannon Travis, and New York Times political correspondent Kate Zernike.
The discussion was moderated by IOP Director C. M. Trey Grayson ’94.
Hemingway and Martin made the point throughout the evening that the Tea Party is a grassroots organization and adheres to three strict values: fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.
The panelists were all largely in agreement over what the Tea Party is, but they disagreed over its political potential.
“The knife cuts both ways,” Travis said, adding that the group was in danger of becoming a victim of its own prodigious growth.
“The tea party’s success and tactics have given fodder to their critics,” he added, questioning the organization’s ability to influence politics at a national as well as at a state level.
Zernike said that those politicians elected through Tea Party support might be forced to choose between answering the demands of the group and the wider demands of Americans at large.
The real question, she said, was not what the Tea Party has achieved already, but what it will do next.
All the panelists were in general agreement that the next two years will be very important for the Tea Party. But the debate became more heated once the floor was opened up for questions.
When one questioner mentioned alleged sponsorship of the Tea Party by the Koch brothers—two wealthy industrialists who are often associated with Republican causes—Hemingway jokingly asked if the questioner knew the brothers and could get them to send him a check.
Following the event, several audience members said they were pleased with the quality of the discussion.
“The panel solidified many of the beliefs I already had,” said Ben Grivno, an audience member and self-described Tea Party activist.
Luciana E. Milano ’14 said she was glad to attend a contentious panel.
“I was excited to see the bickering,” she said.