If you want to better understand how Republicans made major gains in the midterm elections, and why those gains come with a note of caution for the GOP, look no further than famed pollster Scott Rasmussen’s new book on the rise of the Tea Party movement.
Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System shows how the Tea Party emerged, what its members stand for, and why the mainstream media missed the phenomena from the beginning.
Rasmussen, founder of the Rasmussen Reports polling company, teamed up with Douglas Schoen, a moderate Democrat and founder of the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Beland, to explain why the Tea Party is here to stay and has “already changed our politics for the better.”
The book recounts the well-known genesis of the Tea Party movement to Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Feb. 19, 2009, saying “What grew from that rant was a spontaneous outpouring of support across the country, motivated not only by a desire to [return to] core constitutional principles but to reduce the size of government.”
YouTube helped Santelli’s rant go viral, says Rasmussen and Schoen, and “within hours conservative bloggers used the Internet to organize frustrated citizens” via Facebook, Twitter, websites, and meet-up groups.
The title of the book sums up the view of many Tea Partiers and is enunciated in the opening paragraph with a quotation from a 56-year-old man named Neil, a small business owner at a Tea Party rally in Fresno, who said, “We aren’t racists or bigots, we aren’t Astroturf puppets, and we aren’t fringe right-wing zealots. We are just ordinary, hardworking Americans who love our country but are as mad as hell.”
Mad as Hell shows how the media and liberal politicians attempted to marginalize and mock the Tea Party from the beginning by portraying them as bigoted know-nothings or pawns of corporate interests.
Rasmussen and Schoen explain that the mainstream media “has a built-in bias to the political class that renders it unable to report accurately on the most important political stories of our time, including the Tea Party, which the mainstream media ignored, belittled and reviled at every turn.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first labeled the Tea Party as being “Astroturf” or a false grass-roots movement.
It was as if The New York Times received its marching orders from the (soon-to-be former) speaker when it reported, “Although organizers insisted they had created a nonpartisan grass-roots movement, others argued that these parties were more of the Astroturf variety: an occasion largely created by the clamor of cable news and fueled by the financial and political support of current and former Republican leaders.”
The result is that the mainstream media has been rendered “a bystander, a player of diminishing influence in the national political debate,” the book says.
What gives Mad as Hell more heft than a normal political book is the amount of data it contains from various polls including Rasmussen’s own polling operation, which is often the most reliable barometer used to prefigure outcomes of an upcoming election.
For example, the authors offer such interesting nuggets as:
• Tea Partiers are above average in terms of education: 40% are college educated and 66% earn more than $50,000 a year.
• Despite the media portrayal that Tea Party members are older, 60% are under 50 years old and only 12% are over 65.
• The number of Americans who read a daily newspaper dropped from 40% in 2006 to 34% in 2008.
The book explores the growing gap between the average American and the so-called political elites that are running the country. For example, while 19% of the political class believes that tax increases hurt the economy, a whopping 74% of mainstream Americans believe that they do.
The book takes an in-depth look both at the structure of the Tea Party—no easy feat given the diverse nature of the movement—and at who has emerged as its major players. It rightfully explains that the Tea Party has no leaders but credits former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as being the “symbolic leader of the movement and more than anyone else [the person who] has helped to shape it.”
Mad as Hell contains a red flag for the Republican Party: “The Tea Party movement was as much of a reaction against the presidency of George W. Bush and the growth in the size of the deficit as it was to the potential overreaching of the Obama Administration.”
In other words, the Tea Party is not a subdivision of the Republican Party but an alternative to the free-spending policies emerging from Washington under both parties.
The authors write, “Both parties will have to integrate the Tea Party philosophy and indeed its advocacy into their core or they will run the risk of further marginalization and disaffection from the American electorate.”