Politics
4:36 pm
Fri June 29, 2012

Tea Party Sees Ruling As New Rallying Cry

Originally published on Fri June 29, 2012 9:26 pm

Some of the earliest and most vocal opponents of President Obama's health care law were members of the Tea Party. In fact, health care quickly became the issue fueling the rise of the movement.

Anger over the Affordable Care Act drove the Tea Party and Republicans to big gains in the 2010 elections, but since then the movement has seen its prominence and influence wane.

Now, Tea Party activists say the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the law will reignite that original passion in time for this fall's election.

Call For Repeal Continues

The Tea Party was present and accounted for in large numbers on the steps outside the Supreme Court on Thursday as details of the ruling spread. But as disappointing as the 5-4 decision was for activists, their focus quickly shifted to the fight ahead.

"Let us not forget that it was a Democrat president, a Democrat Senate, a Democrat House of Representatives that chose for the first time in the history of the United States to force the American people to buy a product or service against their will," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told Tea Party activists outside the court.

Tea Party member Dina Littlehouse, a mother of two from Virginia, said she was using the ruling as a teachable moment for her young kids, standing by her side outside the court.

"I need them to understand that freedom is always in danger," said Littlehouse. "And I need them to use every civil means possible to fight against it and to reinstitute freedom in our society."

David Spielman is a campaign coordinator with FreedomWorks, a group that was instrumental in launching the Tea Party movement back in 2009. He saw a silver lining in Thursday's ruling.

"It refocuses us for 2012. We need to focus on flipping the Senate and getting a new conservative majority, kicking [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] out of his position. And we need to beat Obama," said Spielman.

Since the 2010 elections, the Tea Party has been somewhat eclipsed in Republican politics by the party's leadership in Congress and by the long fight for the presidential nomination. Public approval for the Tea Party has fallen off significantly as well.

But this loss in the Supreme Court could provide a brand new rallying cry.

David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron, shares this anecdote from moments after the Supreme Court ruling came down:

"I got a text from a friend who said, 'Can you say Tea Party? I'm joining.' And I think that captures a lot of the sentiment out there of people that maybe were standing on the sidelines interested in politics, maybe angry about some things, and this certainly is going to be one of those formative moments that may push some people to actually get involved," Cohen said.

November Implications

Cohen notes that absent the effort to overhaul the nation's health care system, there might not even be a Tea Party. But he cautions that this is a two-edged sword for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"First of all, it's going to energize a base that hasn't been that crazy about him," he said.

That helps Romney. But the more Romney says things the Tea Party likes, the more he could be hurt with the independent voters he needs in the general election, said Cohen.

"There's no question that Romney could be hurt with independents if he continues to hold a hard right position on issues like health care," Cohen said.

For those already aligned with the Tea Party, the court's ruling underscores the importance of this November. And they promise to be more visible and audible than ever.

"This is not over," said Keli Carender, a national grass-roots director for the Tea Party Patriots, protesting outside the Supreme Court on Thursday. "And if you thought that November 2010 was historic, you just wait for November 2012."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. A day after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care plan, all sides now look to the fall. If it wasn't already, the health care debate will now be a key issue in the election. We'll hear from our regular political commentators shortly. And we begin with a report on where the ruling leaves some of the earliest and most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act, the Tea Party.

Anger over the law drove the Tea Party and Republicans to big gains in 2010 and activists say the court's decision will reignite that passion. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The Tea Party was present and accounted for in large numbers on the steps outside the Supreme Court yesterday as details of the ruling spread.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Repeal it now. Repeal it now. Repeal it now.

GONYEA: But as disappointing as the 5-4 vote by the justices was for Tea Party activists, their focus was already on the fight ahead. They heard from their friends in Congress, including Michele Bachmann, who once had hoped to ride a wave of Tea Party support into the White House this year.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: Let us not forget that it was a Democrat president, a Democrat Senate, a Democrat House of Representatives...

GONYEA: As Bachmann's voice blasted through the loudspeakers, Tea Party member Dina Littlehouse(ph), a mother of two from Virginia, was already using the court's ruling as a teachable moment for her young kids standing by her side.

DINA LITTLEHOUSE: I need them to understand that freedom is always in danger and I need them to use every civil means possible to fight against this and to reinstitute freedom in our society.

GONYEA: David Spielman is a campaign coordinator with Freedom Works, a group that was instrumental in launching the Tea Party movement back in 2009. He saw a silver lining in yesterday's ruling.

DAVID SPIELMAN: It refocuses us for 2012. We need to focus on flipping the Senate and getting a new conservative majority, kicking Harry Reid out of the position, and we need to beat Obama.

GONYEA: Since the 2010 elections, the Tea Party has been somewhat eclipsed in Republican politics by the party's leadership in Congress and by the long fight for the presidential nomination. Public approval for the Tea Party has fallen off significantly as well. But this loss in the Supreme Court could provide a brand new rallying cry. David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron, shares this anecdote from moments after the Supreme Court ruling came down.

DAVID COHEN: I got a text from a friend who said, "can you say Tea Party? I'm joining." And I think that, you know, captures a lot of the sentiment out there of people that maybe were standing on the sidelines, interested in politics, maybe angry about some things. And this certainly is going to be one of those formative moments that may push some people to actually get involved.

GONYEA: Cohen notes that absent the effort to overhaul the nation's health care system, there might not even be a Tea Party. But he also cautions that this is a two-edged sword for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

COHEN: First of all, it's going to energize a base that hasn't been that crazy about him.

GONYEA: That's helps Romney, but Cohen says the more Romney says things the Tea Party likes, then that could hurt him with independent voters he needs in the general election.

COHEN: There's no question that Romney could be hurt with independents if he continues to hold a hard right position on issues like health care.

GONYEA: For those already aligned with the Tea Party, the court's ruling underscores the importance of this November and they promise to be more visible and audible than ever. Here's Keli Karender, a national grassroots director for the Tea Party Patriots outside the Supreme Court.

KELI KARENDER: This is not over. And if you thought that November 2010 was historic, you just wait for November 2012.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: