Howard Dean says the tea party movement is not fundamentally racist. But in pointed remarks Wednesday morning, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman said he believes the movement is driven in large part by fear of diversity.
Tea party supporters are “almost entirely over 55 and white,” Dean said when reporters asked about the tea party at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
“Every morning when they see the president, they’re reminded that things are totally different than they were when they were born,” Dean said. “The economy and the economic uncertainty fuels all of this. But this is the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity.”
“I do not believe the tea party in its soul is a racist organization,” Dean added, “not to say there aren’t racists who try to take advantage of some of the more deranged people that you find in any movement.”
“I think it’s a group of older folks who have seen their lives change dramatically. The country is not the same. The demographic that we have all known are going to have changes,” he said. “They don’t know what to do.”
The former governor believes that minorities would turn out in great numbers for Democrats in 2012, although he has concerns about the younger voters who helped to elect President Barack Obama and have become disillusioned by the perceived pace of change.
“Re-energizing idealists is not so easy. It’s going to require a lot of work to get young people back at the polls in the numbers they came out in 2008,” he said.
At the same time, Dean suggested that Republicans and the tea party movement have an opportunity to win over younger voters — so long as they adopt a different message.
“They can get this younger generation. But they can’t get it on the backs of gays and immigrants, because many of their friends are gays and immigrants.”
Dean, who now works in the private sector, predicted that the tea party movement would play a significant role in the 2012 election cycle, just as it did in the 2010 midterms. But he said that the organization is killing Republicans’ chances of courting the growing Hispanic vote, which he said would turn out heavily for Democrats.
“They know which party has been ugly to Hispanics,” he said, seizing on the Republican effort to block the DREAM Act, which would have offered a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children and are enrolled in college or the military.
“If you can’t vote for that, you are a pathetic soul,” Dean said, adding that Republicans are being driven by “hate and fear.”
Dean said that ultimately it will fall largely on the shoulders of incoming Speaker John Boehner to lead a new Republican House majority that respects the tea party movement, while not further alienating voters.
“I think the guy in the biggest hot seat in Washington is the guy who’s going to take the oath of office today,” he said of Boehner. “There’s a big difference between the tea party that Washington thinks is the tea party and the tea party that got these people elected. ... I’m rooting for their success. I think this country is in a lot of trouble.”