“When it comes to the presidential contest, I think the tea partiers will turn up in droves,” she told The Daily Caller.
“They aren’t rallying in the street anymore — I think they’ve been there, done that, so they appear to be quieter. But tea party chapters are still alive and vigorous, and they are just chomping at the bit to pull a lever in November.”
What’s more, says Foley, is that tea partiers will ultimately rally behind whomever the GOP nominee turns out to be.
“And frankly, I think many tea partiers are eager to pull the lever in favor of the Republican presidential nominee — whoever that turns out to be — simply because, from their perspective, that person’s policies will be clearly preferable to those of President Obama,” she said.
Foley is the rarest of species: a tea party supporter in liberal academia. A law professor at Florida International University and chair in constitutional litigation for the Institute of Justice, Foley says many of her liberal colleagues didn’t receive her pro-tea party book too well. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tea party movement)
“It’s more than a little ironic that some of the most close-minded folks I have ever met make their living as professors whose entire job is to engage in scholarly inquiry and convey that spirit of open-minded inquiry to their students,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me.”
TheDC interviewed Foley about her book and the state of the tea party.
How do you believe the mainstream media has distorted the image of the tea party?
They’ve painted a caricature. They seem to intentionally seek out and spotlight tea partiers that comport with their preexisting distorted impressions of the movement. Perhaps this is just inherent in the desire to sensationalize news — pick out the craziest looking person in a crowd and focus on them — but I think it’s more nefarious than that. I think it’s a concerted effort to portray the tea party movement as a movement defined by racism, xenophobia, intolerance and general backward-thinking.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve met with many tea party groups and I’ve studied the polling data carefully. Tea partiers are generally demographically indistinguishable from the rest of the American population. They have the same proportion of non-whites as the general population; they are slightly a bit more male (but only slightly); and their incomes are slightly higher than the general population. More importantly, as the book shows, what motivates this movement is a commitment to three core constitutional principles — principles that all Americans, regardless of race, gender, national origin or other classification, should want to preserve and defend.
What has been the effect of this distortion on discussing the tea party’s agenda?
It’s made it quite difficult to discuss the tea party in “polite” company. The mainstream media’s distortion campaign against the tea party has been so vociferous and uniform that they’ve made it challenging to even utter the phrase “tea party” in certain circles (politically left circles) without triggering intense suspicion or scorn. This is dangerous for our republic — we have to be able to find a way to talk about these substantive issues — the issues that are creating such angst for many Americans, including tea partiers — or else the ideological divide will grow so deep and wide that it cannot be bridged.
How would you define, as concisely as you can, the tea party’s underlying message?
The tea party movement is a movement defined by a desire to protect and defend three important constitutional principles: limited government; defending U.S. sovereignty; and constitutional originalism. Their goal, as a movement, is to get political candidates — of any party — to embrace these principles. In this sense, the tea party movement is truly a movement of principles, not politics.
Ron Paul blurbed your book. Do you think he is most representative of the tea party movement of the candidates currently in the presidential race? If so, how do you explain that in many state exit polls Paul performs better among those who say they oppose the tea party than among other voters?
Congressman Paul undoubtedly played a large role in getting the tea party off the ground. He was one of the very first elected officials to sound the alarm bells about how our Constitution is being systematically dismantled. But you’re right — Paul is not garnering the majority of tea party support, mostly I think because of his position on foreign policy, which doesn’t match as well with the tea party’s desire to unapologetically defend U.S. sovereignty as some of the other candidates. But Paul still enjoys a good slice of tea party support because of his strong support of the other two principles — limited government and constitutional originalism.
It’s important to remember that, a movement of principles rather than a political party, the tea party’s goal is not to anoint a single candidate to “lead” the movement, but simply to try to get all candidates to walk the walk and talk the talk of these three constitutional principles that they embrace. And since most of the Republican presidential candidates have done this, to a large extent, we naturally see that tea partiers are splitting their support among these candidates due to other factors such as perceived electability, personality, etc.
Do you believe the tea party will ultimately fracture over divisions in foreign policy between, let’s say, the less interventionist Rand Paul wing of the movement and the more interventionist Marco Rubio wing?
No, I don’t see this happening. The tea party itself is supportive of a strong vision of defending U.S. sovereignty, based on the old Law of Nations, which recognizes that each sovereign state is allowed to defend its interests vigorously. When attacked, a sovereign may retaliate. What a sovereign cannot do, under the Law of Nations, is to commit an unprovoked act of aggression against another sovereign.
So clearly the war in Iraq was deeply troublesome, as the weapons of mass destruction that our intelligence believed were possessed by Saddam Hussein — even assuming they existed, which we later found out they did not — did not appear to pose a threat to the United States. The war in Afghanistan is a different beast, and most tea partiers likely support it because there was credible evidence that Al Qaeda — the group that committed the aggressive act against the U.S. on 9/11 — was being harbored there by the Taliban. So certainly the U.S. had a right, as a sovereign, to retaliate against Al Qaeda. The fact that Al Qaeda itself has no distinct geographic borders does not render the U.S. defenseless to retaliate for their aggression against us.
There may be differences of opinion among tea partiers about how much foreign aid is a good investment or how aggressively the U.S. should try to export democracy. But on the basic issue of the right to defend U.S. sovereignty, I think the Rand Paul wing and the Marco Rubio wing are in agreement. That fundamental agreement will keep them sufficiently close to cooperate on many foreign policy issues, though certainly not all.
How do you see the tea party evolving? Will it be as influential in 2012 as it was in 2010?
The tea party has been remarkably effective in its short lifespan thus far. The movement’s impact in the 2010 midterm elections was unmistakable. I think 2012 will prove equally successful, since the tea party has matured and learned to focus not just on the big national races, but also the critically important state and local races. This doesn’t mean the tea party’s influence won’t be felt in the 2012 national races — I think it will be — but merely that their influence will go deeper into these state and local elections as well.
When it comes to the presidential contest, I think the tea partiers will turn up in droves. They aren’t rallying in the street anymore — I think they’ve been there, done that, so they appear to be quieter. But tea party chapters are still alive and vigorous, and they are just chomping at the bit to pull a lever in November. And frankly, I think many tea partiers are eager to pull the lever in favor of the Republican presidential nominee — whoever that turns out to be — simply because, from their perspective, that person’s policies will be clearly preferable to those of President Obama. It will be similar to what happened in the 2008 presidential election, when many voters couldn’t wait to pull the lever against President Bush. The same anti-incumbent sentiment will be significant in the 2012 election, particularly in the presidential race.
How have your colleagues in academia received your book?
It depends on where they stand along the ideological spectrum. As you could predict, my colleagues who are right of center have greeted the book warmly and understand why I’ve written it. Those colleagues who are left of center (the vast bulk of the academy, unfortunately) have been mostly hostile. There are some of those that I call “old school” liberals who have been respectful, inquisitive and open-minded enough to have a meaningful debate about these issues, even though they ultimately express disagreement with my point of view…
It’s more than a little ironic that some of the most close-minded folks I have ever met make their living as professors, whose entire job is to engage in scholarly inquiry and convey that spirit of open-minded inquiry to their students. It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me.