It’s inevitable. A new party is forming.
It initially grew organically, with little money and near zero media coverage. Inspired by the iconic Boston event that led to the American Revolution, this reincarnation started humbly, with small rallies sprinkled all across the country. With an American drummer boy dressed in colonial garb leading the way, and Don’t Tread On Me flags in tow, these activists took to the streets on a symbolic tax day with chants of liberty, a constitutionalism mantra, and a goal of taking back their country. From this one day of rallies it would grow to become one of the most powerful and disruptive movements in modern American politics. There hasn’t been anything like it in over 150 years. And contrary to popular thought, Fox News and the Republican establishment entirely missed its beginning.
Widely unrecognized in Republican enclaves as the founding event of the movement, the Ron Paul candidacy is inarguably the precursor to the current Tea Party species. Following the trail of its origin provides a fascinating illustration of how a movement, and hence culture, evolves. And it is within these roots that one can find the promise, and impending dilemma, of this young movement as it grows and changes the political landscape.
* * *
It was the wake of the 2008 presidential campaign and the Republican Party, licking its wounds after losing the White House and seats in both houses of Congress, was searching for new leadership and a novel path forward. The party’s National Committee Chairman hopefuls all met for a debate in early January 2009 to discuss their vision for the future of the GOP, and from their words, one could see that the establishment recognized a potential movement. As Michael Steele saw it, “Ron Paul certainly brought a whole new generation of voters and I think it’s important going forward that we recognize the strengths and the attributes of these individuals who are out there actively building the party and building a movement, a consensus if you will, on certain issues.”
And he wasn’t the only one that expressed that sentiment. Katon Dawson, another candidate for the chairmanship, said, “I want people involved in my party that will hang off bridges and paint on their cars and make up T-shirts. There was a passion that I saw of those people for [Ron Paul] and his ideas.” And Chip Saltsman, a former campaign manager of the Huckabee campaign, also gave praise. “Dr. Paul…he is a wonderful man with wonderful ideas.”
The consensus of the future Republican establishment appeared to be that the Paul campaign brought what was absent in the party — new voters and passion. But until that point, the former OB/GYN and his followers were collectively the human pincushions of the GOP elite — a fact evident early in the 2008 campaign cycle.