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The News of the Day: Is the Tea Party Movement Over?

The News of the Day: Is the Tea Party Movement Over?

August 1st, 2019 // 4:07 pm @

(And Why It Matters)

Many pundits now argue that the Tea Party movement has stopped being a serious force in U.S. politics since Donald Trump took office. The movement became popular in 2009, garnering a number of significant victories during the 2010 election. It also won some notable elections during 2012 and 2014. It had little power during the 2012 presidential election, mainly because many Tea Partiers considered Mitt Romney a liberal-leaning Republican rather than a genuine fiscal conservative. Major election victories for the Tea Party movement included Rand Paul in Kentucky (2010), Tim Scott in South Carolina (2010), Nikki Haley in South Carolina (2010), Marco Rubio in Florida (2010), Mike Lee in Utah (2010), Scott Walker in Wisconsin (2010 and 2012), Ted Cruz in Texas (2012), Mike Pence in Indiana (2012), Dan Patrick in Texas (2014), and many others.

The three major drives of the Tea Party movement were (1) significantly reducing the national debt and deficit, (2) growing the economy by cutting taxes and drastically reducing the levels of federal regulation on the free market, and (3) opposing illegal immigration and its fiscal and national-security dangers. Because candidate Trump gave vocal support to all three of these core Tea Party ideals, many believe the Tea Parties had a major role in electing him in 2016. As mentioned, some suggest that since his inauguration the Tea Party movement has declined and its popularity and influence are now all but extinct. Others argue that by effectively promoting items 2 and 3 (tax cuts and deregulation on a massive scale, and a consistent push against illegal immigration), Trump is implementing the goals of the Tea Party movement from Washington in a way that doesn’t demand continued grassroots protest.

The controversial point hinges on item 1 above, reducing the national debt, or at the very least reversing or significantly slowing its growth. A number of sources have pointed out that on this issue the president hasn’t achieved Tea Party goals, instead increasing the U.S. national debt by well over $2 trillion since he became president. The day Trump took office, the national debt was $19.9 trillion; today it is more than $22.5 trillion. In comparison, during the Obama presidency the national debt rose from $10.6 trillion to $19.9 trillion, by far the largest increase in history. The biggest increasers of the national debt, by percentage, were 1-Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1048% (of course, he was president for over 12 years, including World War II, but still…); 2-Woodrow Wilson, 727% (World War I); 3-Ronald Reagan, 186% (ramping up and eventually ending the Cold War); 3-George W. Bush, 101%; and Barack Obama, 74%. If Trump follows his projected budgets through 2020, he’ll increase the debt by 30% in his first term; in comparison, Bill Clinton increased it 32%, George H.W. Bush 54%, Jimmy Carter 43%, and Gerald Ford 47%.

Whatever your political views, a 30% increase is far more than candidate Trump promised during the election. His detractors call this a major unfulfilled promise, while his supporters, including many from the orignal Tea Parties, blame it on Ford/Bush/Bush-style RINO Republicans in Congress during 2017 and 2018, and a Democratic majority in the House beginning in 2019. Supporters also argue that a “president Hillary Clinton” would likely have increased the national debt at an even higher rate, without rebuilding the military or rebooting the U.S. economy and improving employment levels like Trump. Regardless of who is correct on these theoretical projections about what “might” have been, it remains a reality that the national debt is still increasing. With the current national debt, every American citizen (and each of their children) owes approximately $69,000 to the national debt. So, if you have a family of four, you owe about $276,000 plus interest and increased government spending going forward. Not a good situation.

If this grows by 30% in the next four years, you’ll owe about $359,000 by mid-2023, in addition to whatever private debts you hold. Increase this every four years by 30%, and we’ve all got a truly massive problem on our hands. Increase it at the Obama rate of 74% and you’ll owe a whopping $480,000 just four years from now. At the George W. Bush rate of 101% your debt in four years will be nearly $555,000. Clearly elections matter (a lot!), and just voting Republican or Democrat won’t help unless the candidate is actually a fiscal conservative; just look at Bush’s 101% rate of national debt increase! Even Obama did better. This is why the Tea Parties were just as frustrated with Bush and others they called RINOs as with Obama. Moreover, since many in the bottom tax brackets won’t pay their share of this, or any of it, and the upper class is adept at finding loopholes, most in the middle class will likely be charged double or even triple their share. By such Beltway math, in four years at Trump rates you’ll owe $1,076,400 to the national debt, or in Obama rates you’ll owe $1,440,720. If you have more than 2 kids, increase what you’ll owe accordingly.

All this to say: Given the numbers, I don’t buy it when the pundits claim the Tea Party movement is over. Right now Tea Party types are alarmed that the debt is growing at a relentless clip of 30%, but happy that it isn’t continuing at Bush or Obama speed; 74%-101% is a back breaker for everyone. Most of these people are relieved that Trump brought it down so far, so quickly, But if the rate ever climbs much higher than 30%, we’ll see major tax increases, significant unemployment numbers, and a much tougher economy. This will spark the return of millions of Americans demanding better fiscal leadership—no matter who the president is, no matter what party he/she represents. It might be called the Tea Party, or it might adopt some other nickname, but 30% debt growth is already a major long-term disaster, and a higher rate will be…too much. Increase it a little, or a lot (as many current politician’s proposals will guarantee), and we’re going to see the rise of major political reform groups that stand up and make their voices felt—loudly. If Trump continues to bring down the debt rate in significant ways, they’ll likely hold their tongues. If it goes the other direction, the next round of conservative/libertarian populist demonstrations will probably make the 2009-2016 Tea Party revolution look mild in comparison.

And, for the record, note that Europe is on the same path. Unless Western democracies get serious about addressing their massive debt/entitlement problem, the political upheaval and angry divisions of the Tea-Party/Occupy/Trump/Brexit era are going to surprise us only by how mild they were.

 

Sources:

  • TheBalance.com (statistics on national debt dollar amounts and rates per president)
  • Worldometers.info (statistics on population)
  • U.S.DebtClock.org (current national debt and growth pattern)
  • Wikipedia (election victories by Tea Party candidates)
  • Britannica.com (historical details and statistics on Tea Party movement)

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