Theory Four: Most members of the Tea Party actually never cared much about ideology or governing philosophy, just attitude.
At the height of the movement’s cultural power, disdainful liberals enjoyed citing the nonsensical “keep your government hands off my Medicare” as a Tea Party rallying cry and arguing that most Tea Party members were in fact comfortable with big government, even if they were too stupid to realize it. Another favorite left-wing line of thinking was that the movement didn’t object to big-government spending in general so much as big-government spending on other people.
The movement has indisputably undergone some uncomfortable ideological contortions over time, as most movements do. Folks who roared with fury about Obama’s big-spending early years showed little appetite for entitlement reform. Those who once fumed about runaway government invading the citizenry’s privacy appear comfortable enough with Big Brother as long as he’s leaving them alone.
In September, Glenn Beck, one of the few big-name tea partiers who have been resolutely opposed to Trump since the beginning, suggested that he doubted any real members of the movement supported Trump — and that any that did were, in fact, driven by the racism that critics carped about.
“I don’t think these are Tea Party people who are following [Trump],” Beck said. “Some of them may be, but I think these — I mean, you can’t — if you were a Tea Party person, then you were lying. You were lying. It was about Barack Obama being black. It was about him being a Democrat, because this guy is offering you many of the same things, as shallow as the same way.”
Maybe the Tea Party isn’t splintered and weak. Maybe it’s dead.