Is there still a Tea Party movement?

If a political movement doesn’t mobilize, is it still a movement?  Although the term “Tea Party” is thrown about a lot these days, particularly in reference to the hard-line anti-debt faction of Republicans in the House, it’s not clear that there’s a social movement underneath them.

At Think Progress, Scott Keyes continues to track the events sponsored by Tea Party groups–using Tea Party sources–and the trend line is very clear.  On the right, you can see the number of Tea Party events, and below that, see the number of events sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

Think Progress has already shown that the events themselves, when they actually take place, are smaller than in the past.

Of course, there are lots of other Tea Party groups, but the Tea Party Patriots have been the most oriented to grassroots activism, and AFP has been one of the best-funded and visible.

Elsewhere, the story may be worse.  Tea Party Nation, which has been stalwart in pressuring Speaker John Boehner to give no quarter in the debt talks, has its own debt problem.  When it was unable to generate attendance at a planned national conference in Las Vegas, leader Judson Phillips canceled the conference.  The Venetian Casino Resort, which was to host the event, has filed suit to recover nearly $600,000 that Tea Party Nation owes.

Without noise from the grassroots, Washington insiders, including elected officials and professional lobbyists, have the upper hand in defining the movement and what it wants.  They, that is, people like Tea Party Patriots’ JennyBeth Martin and members of the House Tea Party Caucus, say what it wants is NO DEAL on the debt ceiling.

It’s very clear that regular Republicans, including business, haven’t signed onto this vision of the movement–and of government.  It’s not clear yet whether what was active at the grassroots will sign on or just check out.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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