Q&A: Heath Brown on the Tea Party's Future

Professor Heath Brown (GC/John Jay, Criminal Justice) recently published The Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement (Praeger), which examines the party’s evolution. The GC recently talked to Brown about the future of the Tea Party, including its allegiance to Donald Trump.

GC: Your book examines the surprising divisions within the Tea Party. Do you think the movement will lose power and influence as it becomes increasingly divided?
Brown: The relative influence of the Tea Party will come down to the strategic direction taken by leaders and activists. In the book, I imagine two directions forward. One is the path we see in the presidential campaign: Tea Party-affiliated candidates, including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, all pose a direction for the future of the movement as it moves from protesting to Congress and from Congress to the presidency.

In the second path, activist leaders take the lead and continue moving to local venues. We’re already seeing that some activists have grown so frustrated with national politics that they’re concentrating their efforts on city and county elections and on municipal policy issues involving individual freedom.

GC: What are the major factions that have formed forming within the movement? Is there a particular group that seems most powerful?
Brown: The most vocal wing of the Tea Party has always been the manifestation in southwestern states, where border politics and immigration dominate the debate. This wing — strongly anti-immigration and anti-immigrant — has grown increasingly loud as Donald Trump has risen to prominence in the Republican Party debates and upcoming primaries.

But another wing of the Tea Party is its libertarian side. This wing is not driven by immigration but by individual liberty issues such as gun rights, school reform, and even medical marijuana. The libertarian wing shares few of the socially conservative views of others in the Tea Party, but has driven forward the anti-Washington and anti-Establishment platform on cutting government programs.

GC: Could you talk about the overlap between Tea Party members and Trump supporters? Are the party’s more socially conservative members likely to support him?
Brown: Early polling indicates that there is a good deal of overlap between Tea Party affiliations and support for Trump. He seems to tap into the frustrations and anger that characterized the Tea Party in 2009. It remains to be seen whether the Tea Party will remain as aligned with Trump when the details of his policy proposals emerge this fall.

GC: You've written that the Tea Party’s power may have peaked in 2012. What do you see as the future for the movement beyond this election?
Brown: The Tea Party has always been a placeholder for deeper and more fundamental conflicts within American politics. Because they are not new, the future of ideas that combine a hostility toward Washington, a hostility toward certain under-represented groups, and an adherence to certain — but not all — Constitutional rights, is bright. Their manifestation and institutional form is what will change in the future in unpredictable ways.

Read a review of The Tea Party Divided here.

Read Brown's commentary on the Republican debates in a Mic.com feature story (January 2016).

Submitted on: OCT 1, 2015

Category: General GC News