Amazon Exclusive: Author Q & A with Vanessa Williamson
|Vanessa Williamson |
How would you assess the importance of the web in helping to spread and sustain the Tea Party's messaging? A.
The web has played a crucial role in helping organize what would otherwise be a relatively dispersed group of older, extremely conservative people. In fact, we suspect that those in the Tea Party, particularly the older members, became more Internet-savvy as a result of their Tea Party activity! But the Internet has also allowed for the spread of ideas that are sometimes far outside the mainstream of political discourse. Some of the more conspiratorial concerns we heard (for instance, about the need to revive the gold standard, about the imminent threat of martial law, about the dangers of modernizing the electric grid) occasionally appeared on Fox News or conservative talk radio, but largely survive online. Q.
Who the "leaders" are of the Tea Party continues to be a subject of debate. Do you expect the Tea Party to ever have a centralized organizational structure? A.
No. In our book, we discuss the Tea Party as the confluence of three long-standing strands of conservativism, which worked together in new ways in the first years of the Obama Administration. First, older, white, middle-class conservatives, many of whom had been previously involved in politics or local affairs, were demoralized after the electoral defeats of 2008, and looking for new leadership. Second, conservative media outlets, particularly Fox News and talk radio, helped mobilize and direct these grassroots conservatives. Third, long-standing extreme free-market advocacy groups, like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, took advantage of the new activism to build connections with grassroots conservatives and to push their agenda in Washington. These groups had similar goals in 2009 and 2010--revitalizing conservatism, derailing the Obama Administration's progressive agenda, and pushing the Republican Party to the right. But, as we discuss in the book, these groups do not always have the same policy goals, and in 2012, the Republican Party will have to appeal to moderates to win back the presidency. So it is unclear that the Tea Party label will continue to be a banner that these various conservative forces can rally behind. Q.
Does the possibility exist for a split within the Republican Party? A.
Not because of the Tea Party. There are always factions within a party, and the Tea Party supporters make up a major component of the Republican base. To the extent they are frustrated with the Republican Party, it is because they see the party as inadequately conservative, not because the Tea Party voters are political independents. Q.
What differences do you foresee in the role of the Tea Party in the 2012 elections versus the role they played in 2010? A.
First of all, Tea Party sympathizers will make up a far smaller portion of the electorate in 2012. Far fewer people vote in midterm elections, and those who do tend to be older, wealthier, and more conservative. In general elections, like 2012, we tend to see higher rates of turnout among the young and among minorities. So the influence of the Tea Party at the grassroots will be diluted. The elite aspects of the Tea Party, of course, will still be influence campaign contributors. And we are seeing the Tea Party play a role in the Republican primaries--a point we discuss in detail in our New York Times
post ("Whose Tea Party Is It?," December 26, 2011).