Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party Patriots, helped harness anger on the right in the 2010 midterms to topple Democratic incumbents and drive out some Republicans from the center in one of the biggest GOP waves in history.
Now the movement has dissipated and control of Congress is again at stake, with an increasing number of political insiders predicting that it could be the turn of progressive Democrats to storm the House.
But Meckler — who left the Tea Party Patriots in 2012 and is now working to summon a convention of states aimed at limiting the power of the federal government — doesn’t see it that way.
Roll Call talked to him about why he doesn’t think there will be a blue wave this year, why he thinks the tea party was a success, and whether the Trump presidency represents a victory for the movement.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Q: You co-founded the Tea Party Patriots in 2009, then resigned in 2012. What do you think of the direction the movement has taken since then?
A: If you have a successful political movement, it has to become an integral part of the political system. Otherwise, it has failed. … The tea party has become successful by influencing our political system and by all these tea party members becoming engaged in politics. They are voting, of course. But they are also sitting on city councils, on boards of supervisors and school boards. They are actually sitting in state legislatures and a bunch of them are in Congress at this point. And I would argue that, ultimately, President Trump, though I wouldn’t say he came out of the tea party movement, but he was absolutely made possible by the tea party movement itself.
Q: Would you say that President Trump represents the values of the tea party movement?
A: If you look a this government, one of the things about this government that I don’t like, and that people who still consider themselves tea partyers don’t like, is the profligate spending. Spending is going on at the same or greater rates than we have seen under past presidencies. It’s a financial disaster and will continue to be unless they do something about that. That’s definitely not a tea party value. But I would argue, more broadly, that the approach to governance is absolutely more of a tea party approach: the deregulation, the downsizing of departments, the attempted fidelity to the Constitution. These are things that are tea party values that the administration does reflect.
Q: How would you compare the ‘Resistance’ or the Indivisible movement on the left today to the tea party movement that you were involved with?
A: Since the tea party movement, I get asked this question all the time. whatever the movement is, whether it’s Resist, whether it’s Indivisible, whether its Black Lives Matter. I get asked over and over to compare those to the tea party movement, and all of them, from a political perspective, have literally accomplished nothing.
It’s important to remember that in 2010, the tea party movement created the largest wave election, the largest transition between parties, since 1938. I have seen nothing even remotely close to that since, although reporters have asked me about it and have implied that they are comparable ever since the tea party movement. It’s wishful thinking on the left.
Q. What about candidates like Ayanna Pressley or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, candidates who are more progressive and have a less traditional profile who have won in primaries against white, male incumbents? Do you see that as any way comparable to what was happening with the tea party in 2010?
A: Certainly, there is an internal party fight taking place that I would say is comparable. And I would say where it might also be comparable is in the tea party movement, there were a few candidates who made it through the primaries that were what I would describe as subpar, not great candidates, not the smartest tools in the shed. The same thing is happening on the left. … Occasionally, because of enthusiasm or newness, you get terrible candidates that make their way through. [Ocasio-Cortez] is one of them, and frankly, I think she is an incredible gift for Republicans. It seems like she is probably going to end up in Congress and I’m really glad about that, because she doesn’t seem to be improving.
Q: You have said you disagree with projections of a blue wave in 2018. What do you think is different today compared with the tea party wave of 2010?
A: The main difference is that on the left, where it is coming from is the fringe. I travel the country a lot. I have been in 44 states and the stuff I hear expressed on TV by the fringe left is not what is expressed by most Democrats that I know. And I know a lot of Democrats all over the country. I talk to them, I meet with them and they are not in support of a lot of the what I would describe as the madness that I see on television and the news media generally. I think we see this also in the enthusiasm gap [that] is closing right now. That’s pretty much equal. So I think you are going to end up seeing a very close election. I expect to see the Democrats absolutely pick up seats. That’s just the way it is in a midterm. The dominant party always loses seats in a midterm. Whether they take the House and there is some sort of wave election, I think, is still very much up in the air. But personally, my anecdotal experience is I doubt that very much.
Q: What about the Senate?
A: I think there is zero chance of Democrats taking the Senate. I think we will see Republicans picking up a couple of seats.
Q: I’m sure you have seen some expressions of concern that saying there is not going to be a blue wave or that it could in fact be a red wave could actually have the effect of depressing turnout among Republicans because of overconfidence. Do you see any danger of that happening?
A: I don’t. I’ve never had anybody say to me, “Oh, it looks like the Republicans are doing better, so I’m not going to vote.” People like to participate when things are exciting and moving in the right direction. I think that’s what moves people to go vote. I think it is exactly the opposite, if you think your team is going to get blown out there is a tendency to say, “Well, whatever, my vote doesn’t matter.” But if you think you are going to participate in a victory, then you go out and vote.
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