The tea party was born February 19, 2009. It died, officially, July 22, 2019.
The first date was when CNBC analyst Rick Santelli went on a rant – from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange – about government spending and the dangerous resultant debt it was creating for the country.
The second date was, well, Monday, when the Trump White House and key Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress agreed to a two-year budget deal that further unraveled the spending strictures put in place by tea party Republicans in 2011 and suspended the debt ceiling through July 2021 – and, in practical terms, well into 2022.
In a terrific piece for the National Review, Brian Riedl writes of Monday’s deal:
“This represents a fitting conclusion of the Budget Control Act — the crown jewel of the 2011 ‘tea-party Congress.’ The decade-long shredding of these hard-fought budget constraints mirrors the shredding of Republican credibility on fiscal responsibility.”
Correct. The deal, which still needs to be approved by both House of Congress and then signed into law by President Donald Trump (so, you just never know!), is a sort of final death throe of a movement that has been limping along – mortally wounded but still, somehow, breathing – ever since Trump emerged on the political scene.
Unlike many of his rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination – Jeb(!) Bush, Ted Cruz – Trump never expressed any real concern about the rising deficits (and debt) in the country, nor did he seem terribly concerned about its potential impacts on the economy either now or in the future.
That was in keeping with how Trump had conducted his own personal business prior to running for office – the self-proclaimed “King of Debt,” Trump regularly borrowed heavily to finance his various projects. As Trump told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell during the 2016 campaign: “I’ve made a fortune by using debt, and if things don’t work out, I renegotiate the debt. I mean, that’s a smart thing, not a stupid thing.”
Given that history, no one could, really, be surprised by the lack of interest or concern Trump has shown about adding to yearly deficits since being elected president. His much-hyped tax cuts are set to add $1.85 trillion to the national debt over an 11-year period, according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office. (The national debt has already grown to $22 trillion – up more than $2 trillion since Trump came into office.) The federal deficit for this budgetary year, which has two more months left in it, is almost $750 billion – an increase of nearly 25% from the previous year.
The new compromise budget deal – again, assuming it passes – would raise spending limits by $321 billion over the next two years. As The New York Times’ Jim Tankersley noted on Twitter Monday night, discretionary spending (meaning government-authorized spending outside of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security) is now projected to grow at 4% for Trump’s first term. In then-President Barack Obama’s first term, which saw the rise of the tea party in opposition to out-of-control government spending partly in response to the economic recession of 2008, discretionary spending rose at 3%. (In Obama’s second term, discretionary spending dropped by 2%.)
CNN’s Manu Raju caught up with Cruz, a leading voice in tea party circles and a strong opponent of raising the debt ceiling in the Obama years, on Tuesday morning – asking him for his thoughts on the latest compromise. “Just call our press office,” Cruz told Raju. So, yeah.
The truth is that the tea party was on its way out before Trump emerged on the scene. Almost since the moment the tea party movement pushed through the Budget Control Act in 2011, politicians – on both sides – have been trying to claw back some of the spending they gave up in that deal.
But the emergence of Trump – and congressional Republicans’ complete capitulation to, well, Trumpism, has clearly sped up the death of the movement. He doesn’t care about debt and deficit and so now neither do they.
Looking back over the last 10 years, it’s a remarkable arc. The tea party was the dominant movement in American politics at the start of the decade – seizing control of the Republican Party and pushing out Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) in the process. But then the tea party forces watched as Trump grabbed the GOP by the throat and (still) hasn’t let go.
The tea party has been left dead by the side of the road, one of the many casualties of the presidency of Donald Trump.