Idahoan Bob Neugebauer is the publisher of the Gem State Patriot “news website” often associated with the tea party movement in the state. He goes by the moniker “Tea Party Bob” when he’s on with KIDO 580-AM radio host Kevin Miller.
I rang up Neugebauer on Wednesday because I sense something in the political winds that is affecting some of the conservative grass-roots organizations and that tea party brand, which exploded on the scene in 2008-09 and gets credit for transforming the U.S. House and Senate, and arguably the White House.
Tea party fatigue seemed inevitable until candidate Donald Trump came along — the only person in the GOP line dance who truly was an outsider — and was able to mobilize these hard-to-define voters.
Though the movement and ideology behind it are still alive and well, even Tea Party Bob, an adamant Trump supporter, admits that things are morphing away from the old tea party label and some of the broad national-scope tactics that distinguished it for much of the last decade.
Words and concepts like “freedom” and Freedom Caucus seem to be winning out in Washington, D.C., and from Texas to the Treasure Valley.
Bud Kennedy reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Tuesday that the “South Texas Tea Party Network changed its social media brand last week to the South Texas Freedom Network, declaring support for the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus and opposition to President Donald Trump’s health care bill.”
The Idaho Legislature now has the Idaho House Freedom Caucus, thanks to Reps. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls. The Lewiston Tribune’s William L. Spence reported this week that the two freshmen hoped to attract 10 legislators to an initial meeting and got 24 to show up. Kingsley believes a total of 20 may join.
No one doubts that the inactive Tea Party Caucus is on the wane in the U.S. House or that the alternative Freedom Caucus is a force that flexes its muscles — most recently in the debate and defeat of the GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
So are these the same people with the same ideology, just rebranded as freedom folks? Yes, says Neugebauer. “I see movement,” not a disappearance, he told me. “The ideology is morphing into more local groups.”
For instance, Neugebauer was at the Idaho Legislature earlier this month in support of the repeal of the grocery tax. People like him — who once targeted presidential policies and national issues — are more focused on local matters, where they can see and feel the effect of their efforts.
“The name ‘tea party’ has been overused,” he said. “It’s like a favorite old car. The shine has worn off a little, but still, Steady Eddy gets you where you want to go. ... The tea party is not going away, it’s just splintering off into different groups that believe they can be more effective on a state or local level.”
There’s no question these mostly Republican political factions know how to make noise, get attention and get their their candidates elected. The tea party and now the freedom folks have shown an excellent prowess for obstructing and playing defense — stopping things they don’t like from happening.
What I haven’t seen yet is much of a sustained ability to get something done.
Getting elected and voting against something is one way of keeping score in politics. Drafting legislation to enact change and then finding consensus to get it through? A lot of us are waiting to see whether that skill exists.