Policy Reforms Could Save $4,440 a Year

Regulations are affecting how much many Americans pay in rent. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom)

Economic freedom is a matter of principle, but it’s also a boon to family budgets.

Just 12 economic policy reforms would save the average household $4,440 a year. Opening up markets to more competition, treating outsiders and insiders equally, and squeezing out bureaucratic delays could push prices down enough to give American families some budgetary breathing room.

>>> Read the full report: How Bad Policies Raise the Cost of Living

Nor do Americans need to wait for Washington: states and municipalities can implement some of the biggest cost-saving reforms.

Dozens of studies have looked at specific ways that prices are driven up by policy mistakes. I collected the evidence on 12 policy mistakes and found that the combined effect of free-market reforms would be a huge benefit to consumers: $546 billion a year, more than all the rent paid by Americans in a year. The 12 policy mistakes – and paths to reform – are detailed below.


Local reforms

The characteristic vice of local government is to protect the status quo when they ought to embrace the organic changes that consumers seek.

The most costly policy mistake of all, overregulation of land use, is a local issue. Americans once had the right to build what the market wanted, and the result was soaring skyscrapers, elegant mansions, affordable homes near jobs, welcoming town squares, and secret mountain retreats.

Zoning laws, nosy neighbors, parking minimums, height restrictions, and minimum lot sizes have been choking out the organic growth of cities and suburbs across the country. I found that if the typical coastal city adopted milder land use restrictions, rent would fall 10 percent and home prices would fall 20 percent. (Incidentally, that does not necessarily mean that current homeowners would lose money: lower regulation has been found to increase the price of land and decrease the price of buildings.) In all, adopting mild land use restrictions could save Americans $209 billion per year, with the benefits concentrated among those who currently pay the most for housing.

State reforms

The characteristic vice of state governments is to write laws so that workers and businesses have to ask permission.

Occupational licensure is particularly harmful, costing the average household $1,033 per year. Workers in professions as disconnected from public safety as teaching school or applying cosmetics now have to be licensed by the state for no good reason. One proposal to reform occupational licensure is Lincoln Labs’ “Right to Work 2.0”, which would force regulators to have defend labor regulations on their merits.

Auto dealership monopolies are established by law in every state. Anyone with a storefront can sell bicycles, but if you want to sell cars you have to get permission from the state government. That also means that manufacturers can’t sell directly to consumers online.

Repealing the crude oil export restriction would also lower the price of gas by 12 cents per gallon.

In Brazil, General Motors tried an online sales model and the result was a 6 percent drop in prices. Scholars estimate that U.S. consumers would get a similar benefit, which works out to $1,950 savings on a new car. Most people don’t buy a car every year, so the savings works out to $288 per household per year.

Renewable energy mandates have been established by many states, benefiting favored energy industries, harming others, and raising the price of electricity. If states repealed their mandates – and let all types of energy compete on an even playing field – consumers would soon save $108 per household nationally. In the states that have the most restrictive mandates, there would be even larger benefits.

Medical tort reform, such as limiting the size of payouts in medical malpractice cases, could make health care significantly cheaper. Washington is doing plenty to raise the cost of care, but states can lower health care costs by $82 per household with tort reforms.


Federal reforms

The characteristic vice of the federal government is cronyism. Lots of well-connected insiders have figured out that if you take a few dollars from everyone in America, you will be very rich and they might not notice. Below are just a few of Washington’s reverse Robin Hood schemes.

Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards are the way that Rube Goldberg would have regulated fuel efficiency. When the Obama administration re-wrote the CAFE standards in 2009, engineers and economists predicted that consumers would lose at least $3,800 per new car. Six years later, the price of cars is $4,500 above its previous trend. Repealing the CAFE standards would save the average household $448 per year.

The ethanol mandate requires that refiners use corn for gasoline. Corn isn’t very good at being gasoline. Just letting corn be itself would lower the price of gas by 19 cents per gallon and lower food prices by about one percent, for an annual household savings of $255.

Corporate tax complexity forces corporations large and small to employ armies of accountants and lawyers just to comply with the tax code (and to seek out its many loopholes). Commonsense corporate tax reform would lower their costs. Even if only half the gains were passed on to consumers, the average household could save $230 per year.

Repealing the crude oil export restriction would also lower the price of gas by 12 cents per gallon. That’s just a minor side benefit of repeal, which would also create jobs and increase incomes as well. But the average household will welcome an extra $227 per year.

The Sugar Program and Federal Milk Marketing Orders transfer money from consumers to wealthy landowners by raising the prices of staple foods. A gallon of milk would be 49 cents cheaper with a competitive milk market, and a pound of sugar would be 28 cents cheaper. Consumers would save 16 cents a pound on butter and four cents on a box of breakfast cereal. Each reform would save the average household $29 per year.

Cement production regulation is just one example of the many ways that the Environmental Protection Agency imposes high costs on consumers. Regulation has made it much more expensive to build a cement factory, allowing the existing plants to behave like monopolies. They pass on the costs of regulation to consumers and then some. Going back to the 1990 level of regulation in the cement industry would save the average household $14 a year. The broader lesson is that environmental regulations should be subjected to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.


Twelve steps toward economic freedom and away from cronyism and overregulation would save the average American household $4,440. Congress can make a difference, but so can state capitols and town halls around the country.

There are benefits to economic freedom that are not discussed in this op-ed: more jobs, higher wages, and less volatility in the housing market, for instance. More deeply, economic freedom is a civic virtue in itself – lower prices and greater prosperity are the fruit of individual liberty, not its justification.

Salim Furth, Ph.D., researches and explains how public policy affects economic growth as a research fellow in macroeconomics at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. Read his research.


UnitedHealth to drop Obamacare

Idle threat or not, could UnitedHealth Group’s warning signal the beginning of the end for Obamacare?


There’s little denying that Obamacare (officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) has been a polarizing law since its inception.

The give and take of Obamacare
On one hand, the uninsured rate in this country is the lowest it’s ever been. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from the first quarter showed that, including Medicare patients, only 9.2% of the adult population was uninsured. On the surface, it would appear that Obamacare is meeting its goal of reducing the uninsured rate and providing consumers more choice and better transparency when it comes to selecting a health plan.

But we’ve also seen a laundry list of problems emerge. Aside from the technical glitches that kept millions of Americans from completing their enrollment two years prior, Obamacare has drawn ire for its use of penalties to coerce the uninsured to buy insurance. Also, the beefed up minimum essential benefit requirements for plans sold on marketplace exchanges pushed millions of consumers to buy new plans and/or change their primary doctors because some insurers simply chose not to update low-cost plans that pre-dated Obamacare.

However, what really matters in the end is if President Obama’s legacy law can actually lower the uninsured rate while also helping to control rising medical costs.


The nation’s largest insurer just dropped a bombshell on Obamacare
The jury is still out on this question, because we simply haven’t gathered enough data to make a proper assessment in two-plus years. But the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group(NYSE:UNH), appears to have made up its mind — and it doesn’t have the most glowing review of Obamacare.

UnitedHealth Group, which operates under health-benefits provider United Healthcare in about two dozen states, may stop offering healthcare plans on Obamacare’s marketplace exchanges beginning in 2017. This warning comes after UnitedHealth Group lowered its full-year profit expectations as a direct result of Obamacare. If United Healthcare decides to stop offering plans via Obamacare’s exchanges, approximately 500,000 people will need to find new plans, and potentially new primary care physicians, in 2017. The insurer also noted that it would stop actively advertising to potential Obamacare enrollees in order to minimize its losses.

Per UnitedHealth Group, Obamacare enrollees tend to either be sicker and/or more willing to use their health insurance compared to members that enroll from other avenues (i.e., Medicare Advantage, employer-sponsored, or private market). This is resulting in higher medical expenses for UnitedHealth Group and weaker profits.

No one exactly expected insurers to rake in high margins under Obamacare, but the presumption had been that a high volume of new members would more than make up for the drop in margins from Obamacare plans, ultimately becoming a positive for insurers in the end. Yet based on UnitedHealth’s quarterly results and its threat to leave Obamacare, it’s clear that this presumption hasn’t been correct.


There’s more to it than just sicker individuals enrolling
Aside from higher medical costs as a direct result of sicker individuals enrolling, there are other issues as well.

For example, the individual mandate penalty, or the penalty uninsured consumers pay for not purchasing health insurance, may not be doing a good enough job encouraging younger adults to enroll. Some healthier young adults feel invincible and don’t believe it’s necessary to purchase health insurance, or they’re finding the cost of the penalty to be far more reasonable than the cost of purchasing health insurance for a full year.

In 2014 the average penalty paid by non-compliant individuals was just $190. Yes, the minimum penalty rose in 2015, and it jumped dramatically once again in 2016. Even so, what non-compliant consumers wind up paying in penalties will likely be much less than what the cheapest silver or bronze plan would cost over the course of a full year. In short, taking the penalty could be saving young adults money.

Another problem is the risk corridor. The risk corridor is an Obamacare program designed to buoy newer, smaller, or inexperienced insurers by providing them with financial assistance if they’re losing a lot of money (presumably from treating a lot of sick patients). This capital was expected to come from the federal government, as well as from well-off insurers that were raking in the dough. The problem is that few insurers are doing really well under Obamacare, and a Republican-led Congress is doing everything possible to block funding to the risk corridor. A lack of available capital to the risk corridor is what helped shut the door for a dozen of Obamacare’s 23 health cooperatives, leading to higher premiums and fewer plan choices for consumers in select states in 2016.


Is this the beginning of the end for Obamacare?
The real concern here is this: if UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurer in the U.S., and an operator in two-dozen Obamacare exchanges, can’t make money on the Obamacare exchanges, then who can?

If UnitedHealth Group follows through with its threat to leave Obamacare, it would fall on smaller insurers to pick up the slack. Without much help from the risk corridor, these insurers would need to be on solid footing by the end of the year, or we could have a mess on our hands.

If you’re looking for potential beneficiaries of a United Healthcare exit, I would suggestCentene (NYSE:CNC) and Molina Healthcare (NYSE:MOH) may be able to step up in select states. Centene and Molina are both relatively new entrants to the individual insurance market and are working out the kinks in pricing their policies. But having focused on government-sponsored members via Medicaid for decades, both companies are profitable and understand what it takes to make money on tighter margins. In other words, Centene and Molina could actually be better off playing the numbers game, even if they enroll sicker individuals in some states.

But UnitedHealth’s possible exit raises questions about the Obamacare’s long-term viability. The 2016 elections could very well spell its doom if a Republican president and Republican Congress are voted into office. UnitedHealth’s public lashing of Obamacare could also cause other national insurers to rethink their participation in the program. Cigna and Aetna haven’t fared much better than UnitedHealth, and it’s not out of the question that they, too, could wind up pulling out altogether for the sake of their margins.

Still, it’s important to keep two key points in mind. First, there’s no way of knowing with any certainty whether or not Obamacare would be just fine relying on smaller insurers to pick up the slack. It may work out just fine, or it could be a colossal failure. After a little over two years we still don’t have a lot of data to go off of, and we really should give it more time before deeming Obamacare a success or failure.

Secondly, it’s imperative that investors and consumers keep in mind that insurers aren’t generating a substantial amount of revenue from Obamacare plans. For many we’re talking about a low-to-mid single-digit percentage of annual revenue generated from Obamacare plans. Losing Obamacare enrollees might sting over the short-term for UnitedHealth, but the difference it could make in the company’s margins could make an exit a particularly smart move over the long run.

If I were you, I’d be paying close attention to UnitedHealth’s strategy moving forward, as well as the 2016 elections.

The Incredible True Story of the Tea Party’s Rise to Power

The Incredible True Story of the Tea Party's Rise to PowerIt started out on the prairie, just as the first populist movement did. Or, at least, in a city on the plain.

On the morning of Feb. 19, 2009, Rick Santelli, a former commodities trader and V.P. at Drexel Burnham Lambert, was feeling provoked by the Obama administration’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, a $75 billion proposal to reduce the monthly payments of the 9 million homeowners then facing foreclosure. It was Santelli’s job to get provoked; he had been working the same shtick at CNBC for 10 years, pumping himself into a high dudgeon over one thing or another.

Prompted by the CNBC anchors in New Jersey, Santelli, on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, looked up at the camera zooming in on him and accused the government of “promoting bad behavior” with the program. Then he sputtered out his belief that, instead of having to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages,” we should have a national referendum to ask if we should “buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to prosper down the road, and reward people that carry the water instead of drink the water.”

One of the traders at work next to Santelli, no doubt considering himself a “water carrier,” chimed in sardonically, “That’s a novel idea.” The remark was followed by a few scattered claps and whistles, leading one of the vastly amused studio hosts at CNBC to declare, “They’re like putty in your hands!”

Santelli then declared of the nearly empty trading floor, “This is America! These guys are…my guess is, a pretty good statistical cross-section of America, the silent majority!” He “poll[ed]” the traders, most of whom didn’t appear to be listening: “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” Rewarded with a smattering of boos, Santelli asked triumphantly, “President Obama, are you listening?”

He then informed viewers that the country was fast moving toward Cuba, where they “used to have mansions and a pretty good economy” but where “they moved from the individual to the collective. Now, they’re driving ’54 Chevys, maybe the last great car to come out of Detroit.”

Told by a CNBC commentator he sounded like “a revolutionary leader,” Santelli embraced the role: “Somebody needs one. I’ll tell you what: If you read our Founding Fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson…what we’re doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves.”

His call to arms, in the end, was the vague suggestion that “all you capitalists” have “a Chicago Tea Party in July,” where, he promised, “we’re going to be dumping in [to Lake Michigan] some derivative securities.”

Santelli’s rant, as it came to be known, like Paul Revere’s ride or Pickett’s charge, is almost baffling in how slight it really was relative to the influence it would project on history. It was the same old, same old toxic brew of downward class hatred, schadenfreude, and free-floating anger that has been a regular trope in right-wing politics for decades, combined with a willful naïveté about how the world works. It was standard, even comical, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn stuff, little more than a checklist of your uncle’s postThanksgiving-dinner, fourth-Scotch tirade, right down to the bit about how Detroit hasn’t made a great car in 60 years (and what was the Mustang, Rick, chopped liver?).

But the rant’s timing was perfect: Fearmongering over the election of Barack Obama, who had been sworn in as president barely a month before, it was also a lightning bolt fired into a primordial soup of unprecedented economic anxiety. It turned out the revolution wastelevised, and it was about to go viral. Santelli’s rant would launch the movement that dominates American politics today: the Tea Party.

When Santelli did his thing, I thought…, ‘Wow, I gotta get in.’ It was kind of like the big bang.


“When Santelli did his thing in February, I thought…, ‘Wow, I gotta get in,’ ” said Mark Kevin Lloyd, then a small businessman watching his firm dissolve. “It was kind of like the big bang. Once it came together, it started to take on a life of its own.”

“What set off what we now consider the Tea Party movement was certainly the Rick Santelli rant,” said Sal Russo, a longtime conservative political consultant in Washington and a former aide to Ronald Reagan.

Six years into its existence, the Tea Party continues to score tremendous and wholly unexpected victories, ripping apart the leadership of the Republican House majority and hijacking the party’s presidential nominating process. The Tea Party’s Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives hastened the departure of Speaker John Boehner (after whipping his former No. 2, Eric Cantor, in a primary last year), and arrested the ascension of the next Republican in line, Rep. Kevin McCarthy—who had been considered a right-wing radical himself just a few short years ago. The new speaker, Paul Ryan, granted the Freedom Caucus what was essentially veto power over his own election.

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, meanwhile, Tea Party darlings such as Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Scott Walker have floundered. But other Tea Party favorites, including Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and lately Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have been dominating the field and the conversation. They have—particularly Cruz—by and large championed the Tea Party’s desire to slash most or all discretionary federal spending; defund, repeal, and replace the Affordable Care Act; abolish most taxes and nearly all government regulations on business; end “corporate welfare”; move toward privatizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and not least, use whatever legal means necessary to achieve these goals, including shutting down the federal government.

A look at the origins of the movement and its early leaders reveals it to be one of the most complex and obdurate political phenomena in our history. Whatever America’s future is to be in the 21st century, it will have to go through the Tea Party.

Tea Party adherents, and there are plenty of them—at least one-fifth and sometimes one-third of the electorate tell pollsters they support the Tea Party and/or its goals—say that it has changed their lives and dismiss the idea that they joined up because of what any news network or billionaire had to say. They trace their conversions not from right-wing media, or some clever Washington lobbyist, but from the ideas promulgated by figures as diverse as Ron Paul and Glenn Greenwald, Frédéric Bastiat and Ronald Reagan. The Tea Party is a genuine grassroots movement, started and perpetuated by aroused citizens convinced that something has gone terribly wrong with their country. They have joined with like-minded friends and neighbors to set things right, just as the framers of our Constitution intended.

At the same time, the Tea Party is also a manufactured right-wing conspiracy, right down to its name; conceived, test-driven, and funded by the Koch brothers and their fellow plutocrats.

The Tea Party is both these things and neither. The Tea Party is an impulse. It is a reaction, a sentiment. It is an amazingly effective electoral tool. It is a diversion, a hobby, a reason to get up in the morning—just as politics has always been a pastime for a portion of the American people. It is a calling, it is a vocation, it is great good fun, and it is the long con.

The Tea Party’s refusal ever to coalesce into an actual party, or even a single coherent movement, is the key to its power. Right now, the Tea Party sits on the political system like a giant ganglion, able to check its every movement without ever directly taking power. It is a brilliant political strategy, through which it has pushed American politics farther right than it has ever been.

It is also an incredible abrogation of responsibility. Refusal to become a formal political party enables the Tea Party to avoid dealing with the full multitude of issues party leaders must address, or making hard choices. The Tea Party never governs; it simply demands. The Tea Party is the politics of rejection, of the refusal to trust anyone or any institution. It is the politics America has been moving toward haltingly but continually, on both the left and the right, for more than half a century—a politics of purity, of fantasy, a politics of disgust and rejection.

The question this forces is how any republic, any modern democracy, can function when such a movement is driving the bus. We may be about to find out.

A Shot Heard Round the Country

It is easy to see how the Tea Party’s birth spasms presaged the phenomenon of Donald Trump and the host of similar “outsiders” contending for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. (Santelli’s evocation of the Nixonian “silent majority” in his rant would even become a staple of Trump’s stump speeches.) Over the last month this Maoist guerrilla of a political movement—always eluding and counterpunching, refusing to be pinned down or cornered—has reduced the House of Representatives to something from “a banana republic,” according to one of its leaders, and is threatening to shut down the federal government for the second time in three years.

“Rick Santelli, when he had his rant, he let it rip,” remembered Lloyd. “Which is the same thing Donald Trump does.”

Lloyd had watched his well-drilling business, which employed 12 people, unwind with the housing market, and he was apprehensive about the size of President Obama’s proposed stimulus package.

“You couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but you knew. All of a sudden there was this incredible clarity,” he said.

Calls to hold an actual tea party protest were soon ringing out all over the country—or at least the right-wing media. A clip of Santelli’s rant appeared almost immediately on The Drudge Report, and before the day was out, the libertarian lobbyist Eric Odom had registered the domain name officialchicagoteaparty.com. By the next day, the rant was all over Fox News, and Odom had joined with FreedomWorks, an oil-funded lobbying group, and Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers, to put up a Facebook page calling for nationwide demonstrations:

“Rick Santelli is dead right! Enough bailouts of everyone who acted recklessly! It’s time to stand up for all the regular people who play by the rules! Taxpayer Tea Party!”

So when critics say the Tea Party was hijacked by corporate money, it’s not exactly true—corporate money was there from day one.

People around the country heard the call. As chronicled by Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake, protests soon broke out in Cincinnati; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Feb. 27 saw tea parties outside the White House and in eight more cities, coordinated by John O’Hara of The Heartland Institute and J.P. Freire, then with The American Spectator, and apparently suggested by Tom Gaithens, a FreedomWorks “Minuteman.” (Although, tellingly, Fox News would report that more than 40 cities held similar rallies that day, relying on a Tea Party source. The claim lives on at Wikipedia.)


(Map: TakePart)


“Folks rose up and came together and said, ‘OK, if we want to make a greater impact, we need a large, nationwide movement,’ ” remembered Matthew Hurtt, then a 22-year-old Republican Party activist in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It exploded the next weekend,” recalled Russo. April 15 brought a “Tax Day Tea Party” to an estimated 750 towns and cities across America, from East Hampton, New York, to Yakima, Washington. The event had been promoted robustly online, again by FreedomWorks but also by RFCRadio.com, assorted right-wing leaders, and Fox News, which dispatched hosts and commentators to rallies. Newt Gingrich told a crowd in New York to throw the bums out of Congress, while Gov. Rick Perry entertained a thousand protesters gathered in Dallas.

The biggest crowd seems to have been some 2,000 people who gathered in Houston, while most assemblies drew 200 to 500 individuals at most (though attendance figures for any Tea Party event are always a matter of fevered dispute). What they lacked in numbers, the Tea Partyers made up in media-friendly enthusiasm. They dressed in what would soon become familiar Revolutionary War reenactor outfits, draped tea bags from eyeglasses and umbrellas, carried “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and dumped a box of tea on the White House lawn (an anti-bomb robot had to be summoned to retrieve it).

Chronicle of a Tea Party Foretold

What Santelli had tapped into, whether he intended it or not, was a chronicle of a populist uprising foretold. The term “tea party,” and the idea of leveraging corporate money to get its interests reflected in the public discourse that FreedomWorks and AFP represented, went back much farther.

It may have begun with a once obscure, now underground legend of a document written by Lewis Powell in 1971, just before his nomination to the Supreme Court, as Jane Mayer noted in a 2010 article in The New Yorker exposing the Tea Party’s ties to the Koch brothers.

The Powell Memo, as it came to be known, was sort of Santelli’s rant on paper. Written for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee, it called on American business to mobilize politically and reassert its power, “aggressively and with determination…without the reluctance that has been so characteristic of American business.”

A man at a Tea Party rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House, April 15, 2009. (Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

The memo was leaked to columnist Jack Anderson in 1972, but corporate America had already got the message. From 1968 to 1978, the number of corporate public affairs offices in Washington, D.C., rose from 100 to more than 500, according to author David Vogel. The number of registered lobbyists grew from 175 in 1971 to almost 2,500 in 1982. Corporate PACs increased from fewer than 300 in 1976 to more than 1,200 by 1980. Most important, corporate lobbying money exploded, increasing from an estimated $100 million in 1971 to more than $3.5 billion a year today.

In the vanguard of the rush to the barricades were the Koch brothers. In 1977, they began spending what would grow to more than $100 million—and perhaps three or four times that amount over the years since—on winning the ideas war through contributions to right-wing lobbying groups and think tanks.

The term “tea party” also has its origin with the Kochs. Mayer traced how, in 1980, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president, Ed Clark, announced that people of his political ilk would soon hold “a very big tea party” because they were so fed up with paying taxes. The vice president on Clark’s ticket: David Koch, who poured $2 million into the Libertarian effort that year.

The Kochs tired of direct participation in electoral politics soon after but not of the Libertarian Party’s extreme laissez-faire vision for America (particularly as it affected Koch Industries). The Kochs went back, Mayer wrote, to funding “seemingly independent organizations.” These rapidly metastasized.

It was the Kochs who, in 1984, begat Citizens for a Sound Economy, which begat FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, the leading sponsors and organizers of countless early Tea Party events.

CSE opposed pretty much all taxes and government regulations on the industries that underwrote it. It received $7.9 million from the Kochs alone between 1986 and 1993, along with other considerable contributions from the oil, sugar, and tobacco industries. Big tobaccocontributed at least $5.3 million to CSE between 1991 and 2002; individual corporate donors included General Electric, Exxon, Hertz, and Philip Morris.

Appointed the first chairman of CSE was a 49-year-old former Libertarian and once and future Texas congressman named Ron Paul.

By 2002, although Paul had moved on, CSE had another idea for pushing its program: a “U.S. Tea Party project.” Its website featured a page that called for “another symbolic protest in the best tradition of our Founding Fathers.” It claimed that “our U.S. Tea Party is a national event, hosted continuously online, and open to all Americans who feel our taxes are too high and the tax code is too complicated.”

Then, on Dec. 16, 2007, the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Paul’s presidential campaign held a fund-raiser in Boston. The rally was replete with protesters in full Minuteman garb and even a fife and drum corps. Some 400 supporters of the candidate met on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, then marched through the snow to Faneuil Hall, where they listened to speeches from Paul’s son Rand, and similar speakers. Out of respect for environmental regulations, the revolutionaries did not dump any tea in Boston Harbor but, The Boston Globe reported, tossed “banners that read ‘tyranny’ and ‘no taxation without representation’ into boxes that were placed in front of an image of the harbor.’ ”


(Map: TakePart)


The Grassroots Movement

The Boston march attracted the attention of Patrick Bailey, then a student at Georgia Tech. Bailey would be one of many younger recruits to the Tea Party from what he described as the “left,” or at least a sort of lefty libertarianism. He had begun to question, as a summer student in Barcelona, Spain, in 2006, the traditional conservative views he’d been brought up with. He started “reading a lot of Glenn Greenwald,” he said, but was attracted to the “ideological consistency” of Ron Paul.

As conservative columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin would point out, the Tea Party was far from being a bunch of Koch brothers drones, no matter how much money the billionaires spent. It had its own grassroots appeal, drawing thousands of regular Americans into political activism for the first time and building its own political culture. But it didn’t take long for the Koch brothers’ Astroturf organizations to recognize their low-tax, lax-regulation agenda in the new movement and see an opportunity to leverage it. Perhaps aware that people were becoming hip to their earlier methods of buying influence, the Kochs and their spokespeople made a pro forma denial that they “in any way direct [the Tea Party’s] activities” or fund them. David Koch toldNew York magazine, “I’ve never been to a tea party event. No one representing the tea party has ever approached me.”

Yet it was easy for Jane Mayer to demonstrate that the Kochs’ fingerprints were all over it. Verification came willingly, even gleefully, from their own employees: Peggy Venable, a paid operative for the Koch-created Americans for Prosperity, announced at a training session for the Tea Party in 2010, “We love what the Tea Parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” She went on to spell out how AFP intended to train and educate Tea Partyers and had provided them with lists of public officials to be targeted for defeat that November.

The movement was made a reality by, among others, an obscure Kentucky radio host who got listeners to ship 1,500 bags of pork rinds to Sen. Chuck Schumer. Then there was the plucky, decidedly un-corporate Keli Carender, aka “Liberty Belle”—a young Seattle schoolteacher and former actor whom Malkin described not inaccurately as “a young conservative mom who blogs” and who had begun organizing her own antitax “Porkulus Protests” weeks before Santelli’s rant.

Down in the trenches—or down in your neighborhood—the Tea Party wasn’t a hired congressman or a Washington lobbyist but your friend and neighbor, other “liberty-minded people,” as Waverly Woods, at the time the owner of three tanning salons in Virginia Beach, Virginia, described them to TakePart.

Adam Brandon is president and CEO of FreedomWorks, an oil industryfunded lobbying group founded by former House Speaker Dick Armey that called for demonstrations against a 2009 Obama administration program intended to help people stay in their homes. Sal Russo, a longtime Republican political consultant, helped organized such rallies. Mark Kevin Lloyd’s business was a victim of the housing bust; Lloyd got involved in the Tea Party after seeing Rick Santelli’s rant. Today he is chair of the Virginia Tea Party Federation. Matthew Hurtt was a Republican Party activist in Tennessee in 2009 who organized disruptions of town halls held that year by Democratic members of Congress; he now works for a political data provider in Washington, D.C. Waverly Woods, whose tanning salon business was hit hard by an Affordable Care Act tax on such establishments, chaired two Tea Party chapters in Virginia before taking a job at The Leadership Institute, which trains conservative activists. (Photos: Twitter; Getty Images; YouTube; Twitter; Reuters)

“How do I get my legislator on the phone? The Tea Party tells you how,” explained Woods, an exuberant single mother in her mid-40s who tried the Republican Party and Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Patriots before discovering the Tea Party. “It teaches you how to find your legislator and how to get him on the phone. Here’s how you write an e-mail to him, and here’s what you say. You know, here are the talking points. Put it in your own words. We don’t feed people their opinions, we give everybody the facts, so that you can make your own opinion.”

Woods, who served as chair of both the Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads chapters of the Tea Party before becoming a member of the board of the statewide Virginia Tea Party Federation, claimed to have helped bring out “thousands of people” for a Tea Party rally but mostly enjoyed the regular meetings of her local organizations, which drew “at least 70 people” every month. As Woods’ tanning salons succumbed to the Affordable Care Act’s tax on such facilities (as nearly 10,000 such businesses have, nationwide) the Tea Party offered a new venue of activity, a place to debate, to meet others. To organize.

Tea Party activists come across as affable, friendly individuals, even over the phone. Their fervor and their love of country are palpable. They are engaged and committed in an increasingly cynical and indifferent political landscape.

The local chapters would become one of the two enduring bonds that keep the Tea Party together. There are more than 40 of them in Virginia today, with roughly 75 to 100 members apiece. “The only requirement is that [attendees] have to be more than “a complaint coffee club,” according to Lloyd, now 55, who has served as chairman of his local Lynchburg chapter and is in his second tour as chairman of the Virginia federation.

The other bond is the Internet. “I would probably say [the Tea Party] was the first major social movement that happened on Facebook and Twitter,” said Adam Brandon, communications director of FreedomWorks at the start of the Tea Party movement. Lloyd concurred: “If Facebook went away, I do believe the Tea Party movement would disappear.”

Just whom one is likely to meet at a Tea Party meeting tends to confirm the suspicions of those who see the movement as simply a rebranding of the right wing of your already right-wing Republican Party. Numerous polls and surveys have found that Tea Partyers tend to be men 50 or older. Unlike the starving farmers of Texas or Kansas who made up the original Populist movement 140 years ago, they are likely to have above-average incomes and educations. They are also overwhelmingly white Republicans from suburban or rural communities who are much more conservative, much more pessimistic about the future of this country, and much more angry at Barack Obama than the rest of their party.

Lloyd concedes most of this but insists that in Virginia, at least, a chapter leader is most likely to be “a 60-year-old woman, who is probably still working.” The idea that the Tea Party is mostly white, he claims in the face of all available evidence, is “the biggest misnomer out there.” If “you go to Texas, you have whole Tea Parties that are Hispanic…. Here in Virginia, we have some great Hispanic folks.”

“We have black people; we have Asian people,” said Woods. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians are all represented at Tea Party gatherings, she claimed.

Ideologically, most Tea Partyers are hard right on issues of defense, foreign policy, and most social issues. But after some bruising early fights with some whom Lloyd characterized as “hard-core libertarians,” Tea Partyers have tended to narrow their official positions to issues of “big government” alone. This has become one of the keys to their power.

“As long as they’re for limited government, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, and holding our elected officials accountable,” anyone is welcome at a chapter meeting, according to Lloyd.

“[A Tea Partyer is] just your average citizen that is tired of the egregious intrusion of government. And they are very strong constitutionalists,” said Woods. “They definitely believe if it’s not in the Constitution, you shouldn’t be doing it.”


(Map: TakePart)


What this means is that TARP is the government “picking winners” and “corporate welfare,” Lloyd said. It would have been better for the federal government to let the world’s financial system collapse than prop up Wall Street in 2008. The stimulus was a wasteful mistake that did nothing to help end the recession. Obamacare was an egregious overstepping of government’s proper role, “unelected bureaucrats” running amok, according to Matthew Hurtt. His main intellectual influence, the 19th-century French free trade absolutist Frédéric Bastiat, wrote that a government engaged in anything beyond protecting each individual’s “person, his liberty, and his property” was taking part in “legalized plunder”—which Hurtt also believes to his core. Some of the other things Tea Partyers told me were that the 2008 financial crisis occurred because of “the government saying, ‘You must lend money to individuals who definitely will not be able to pay it back’ ” (Hurtt). Also that the military has been dangerously hollowed out because the “president wants to make us a third world country” (Woods). Social Security is telling “people the year they should be retiring” (Bailey), and “there are thousands” of Muslim refugees who have been brought to the U.S., so many that at the Mall of America, “if you are not a Muslim…, it’s dangerous for you” (Lloyd).

This is not a movement prone to mincing words.

First Actions

In the summer of 2009, the Tea Party would test its strength voicing opposition to Obamacare. Supporters flooded town hall meetings called by Democratic Congress members to explain the plan. This was, again, hardly spontaneous. Their appearances and tactics were coordinated by websites such as that of Tea Party Patriots, another somewhat mysterious, supposedly grassroots group inspired by Santelli’s rant (though funded by a $1 million anonymous gift), which urged them,ThinkProgress reported, to “pack the hall” and to make “short intermittent shout outs. The purpose is to make [the representative] uneasy early on.… The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout and sit right down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

Tea Partyers took these directions to heart, disrupting proceedings again and again by standing suddenly to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, scream, boo, and shout down representatives with denunciations of “socialized medicine” or the infamous “death panels.”

Hurtt, who had just moved to northern Virginia to become a full-time conservative activist, went to a town hall deliberately trying to provoke his new Democratic representative, Jim Moran, who, Hurtt said, “was very well known in this area as a short-tempered hothead.” Hurtt was “honestly shocked that members of Congress were still taking part in [the town hall meetings]” because it was so easy to disrupt them.

“It’s the first time conservatives realized they could go out and be in your face,” said Hurtt. “You know, the left is…good at this sort of activism.” He took many of his cues from Confrontational Politics, a manual of disruption penned by Gun Owners of America founder and former California state Sen. L. “Bill” Richardson. “Conservatives—what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, and what I’ve noticed is—are largely uncomfortable with that sort of thing.… And this was their first opportunity to do that. So, it was disruptive and loud.”

These Democratic members of Congress all saw town hall events, which they called in 2009 to answer questions from constituents, disrupted by Tea Party activists. All five were voted out by 2014. (Photos: Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Getty Images; Wikipedia; Wikipedia)

When Moran and his guest, 2004 presidential candidate and onetime Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, attempted to answer written questions from the audience, Hurtt and his companions shouted them down. When asked if this didn’t make for an ugly scene, Hurtt, who can be almost achingly earnest talking about the need to take care of poor and outcast Americans of all kinds, talked about the Chicago community organizer who was an early influence on Barack Obama.

“Saul Alinsky talks about the haves and have-nots. So the have-nots must insert themselves in a way that tends to be more aggressive than the haves,” said Hurtt, redefining Alinsky’s have-nots as “the people who want to limit government.”

Elsewhere, dozens of raging sign-carrying protesters confronted Democrats such as Bruce Braley of Iowa and longtime Florida incumbent Allen Boyd. Tim Bishop, a veteran incumbent from Long Island, canceled his town halls—which he had been holding since 2002—after Tea Party protesters broke up his public meetings, shouting insults at him over not only Obamacare but also his positions on matters from energy policy to the bailout of the auto industry. In the end, Bishop had to be escorted to his car by police past the furious demonstrators. Rep. Dan Maffei, a freshman Democrat, also needed police intervention to restore order when his town hall meeting at a Syracuse middle school was broken up by a Tea Party mob.

Lloyd, by summer 2009 fully engaged in electoral politics, led his own mob to disrupt the town meetings of freshman Democratic Rep. Thomas Perriello, whom Lloyd still delights in calling “Little Tommy the commie.”

Mike Troxel, a Tea Party organizer in Lynchburg, posted what he thought was Perriello’s address on his blog, “just in case any of his friends and neighbors want to drop by and say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for health care.” Troxel, a 2005 graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, said of the posting, “I was a journalism major in college, so I have every reason to believe my research is accurate.”

Troxel had mistakenly posted the address of Perriello’s brother, where he lived with his four children, all under the age of eight, and his wife. Someone cut the line of the house’s propane tank under cover of night. Troxel was nonetheless largely supported by the Lynchburg Tea Party, which subsequently made him its vice president.

The violent intimidation that occurred at the 2009 town halls was reminiscent of the melee in Miami when authorities were trying to count votes in the 2000 presidential election. GOP operatives, many of them congressional staffers, were bused down from Washington; “several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections,”The New York Times reported, and the canvassing board subsequently decided to halt the count.

Perriello lost his congressional sea in 2010. Maffei lost his reelection bid by nearly 20 points. By 2014, all of the Tea Party targets mentioned above had been voted out of Congress, save for Moran, who retired, and Braley, who ran for Senate and was trounced by Tea Partyer Joni Ernst, best known for her ads trumpeting her skill at castrating hogs.

No way, shape, or form do I believe [President Obama] loves this country. Or Americans. He sabotages this country at every turn. Every opportunity.


The Tea Party Goes to Washington

After shutting down the town halls, it was time for the Tea Party to find its way to Washington, the signal that any political movement has arrived. On Sept. 12, 2009, an estimated 75,000 thousand supporters gathered at the National Mall, the culmination of a Taxpayer March on Washington.

Bringing the movement to the capital is a long tradition in American populist politics, beginning with Coxey’s Army, a Populist offshoot that managed to wrangle maybe 2,000 unemployed men to Washington in 1894. They started a legacy of meeting in the capital that would come to include every sort of popular movement, from the Ku Klux Klan to the Nation of Islam and most famously the Bonus Army of 1932 and the civil rights March on Washington of 1963.

The Taxpayer March on Washington was organized by Matt Kibbe, a former CSE activist who would move on to FreedomWorks. Many participants were attracted by a 34-city, 7,000-mile promotional bus tour put together by Sal Russo’s Tea Party Express PAC. Other Tea Party groups backed by major political players and corporate money played major roles in sponsoring the rallies, including the 9/12 Project; the National Taxpayers Union, an antitax lobby group founded in 1969 by a private investor; The Heartland Institute, today the primary vehicle for oil-industry-funded climate change denial; Americans for Tax Reform; ResistNet (soon to become the Patriot Action Network); and Americans for Prosperity.

For a rally held by a populist uprising, the Taxpayer March featured a surprising number of incumbent members of Congress—all of them Republicans—including Mike Pence, Marsha Blackburn, Tom Price, and Jim DeMint. The grand convocation—and other, smaller Tea Party rallies around the country—received lavish coverage from Fox News and right-wing radio-talk-show hosts.

Also addressing the crowd was former Texas Rep. Dick Armey, whose presence seemed to embody all the contradictions of the Tea Party. Armey served 18 years in the House, including eight as majority leader. He resigned in 2003 to take a lucrative position with the multinational law firm and Washington influence shop DLA Piper—currently the third-largest law firm by revenue in the United States and a major inside-the-beltway player, just the sort of wheeling-and-dealing establishment entity the Tea Party claims to detest. Armey became cochair of CSE, from which he promptly spun off FreedomWorks the next year, giving himself the top job. That paid him $500,000 a year along with first-class air travel around the United States, over and above his lobbying salary. (Adam Brandon insisted to TakePart that FreedomWorks was always “a grassroots group.”)

Lloyd remembered that first Washington rally fondly: “We all got along. Everybody was kind to everybody else. The anger and frustration had a target.”

That target tended to be, for the most part, the president of the United States, depicted in the now infamous posters as Hitler or the Joker. It was an early manifestation of the highly personalized contempt and loathing most Tea Partyers hold for President Obama. Tea Partyers don’t much like high-spending, deficit-running George W. Bush, but Barack Obama, many are convinced, is simply not a legitimate president and more likely a malevolent Islamic agent of some sort.

“No way, shape, or form do I believe that man loves this country. Or Americans. He sabotages this country at every turn. Every opportunity,” said Waverly Woods.

Lloyd thinks the 2008 election was celebrated by “the bad guys” in Iraq because they believed “[President Obama] was sympathetic to the extremist Muslim convictions, which he has turned out to be” by “allowing” some “nefarious things going on with Islamic groups,” such as getting money and arms to Hamas.

Even Sal Russo was disappointed when John McCain, in his 2008 campaign, corrected those supporters who told him that President Obama was a secret Muslim terrorist: “He kept chastising people, saying, ‘Oh, don’t say that; he’s a fine person.’ All that might be true, but in a campaign you gotta paint a contrast. You gotta be talking about all your differences.…”

First Electoral Victories

A few months after the Washington march, the Tea Party would score its first great electoral victory, in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts left open by the death of Ted Kennedy. There could hardly have been a less likely venue for the insurgent movement than a statewide race in deep blue Massachusetts, which had given Barack Obama nearly 62 percent of its vote just the year before and which did not have a single Republican in its congressional delegation. But once again, the Tea Party’s elite, establishment advisers rallied: Sal Russo was struck by the polls showing an obscure but charismatic state legislator named Scott Brown in striking distance of Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was running a campaign Homeric in its ineptitude.

The Tea Party Express poured ads into national cable TV in support of Brown. The ads, Russo said, “created a spontaneous explosion of interest in the race.” The cash and the Tea Party volunteers who followed led to Brown’s upset in January 2010. The victory deprived Democrats of their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority and seriously threatened passage of President Obama’s health care plan.

“It motivated people to say, ‘OK, enough of this protest stuff—let’s get busy and get working,’ ” recounted Russo.

Democrats should have seen what was coming. All through 2010, insurgent Tea Party Republican candidates scored one stunning upset after another. They took the party nomination away from such prominent Senate incumbents as Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, and Bob Bennett in Utah; drove establishment Republican Gov. Charlie Crist right out of the party in Florida; and nominated outsiders in their place.

Some liberal commentators took this as evidence that the Tea Party would soon break apart the Republicans. It was, instead, proof that Tea Partyers, for all that they claimed to despise the wicked Washington ways of both major parties, had committed themselves exclusively to the GOP. Far from becoming a third-party splinter, the Tea Party had decided, as Hurtt put it, to serve “as the conscience of the conservative wing of the Republican party primarily.”

“No matter how you feel about third parties in America, the infrastructure is so deep that…it’s actually easier to move this agenda and our value system by taking over the Republican Party,” said Adam Brandon. Or as Woods put it, “Our mission is not to destroy the Republican Party but to redeem it.”

“I think we have a system where…it’s a two-party system. It rarely allows for other parties to get much coverage or to get into the debate,” Hurtt explained. “I encourage grassroots, conservative activists to hold Republicans accountable. I think that’s where they can be the most effective.”

The lack of a formal party structure and leaders allowed Tea Partyers to avoid having to take a stand on any of the issues that promised to split them.

“When you start getting into whether we should have invaded Iraq or not, what should we do about gay marriage, that’s where it starts to splinter,” Brandon candidly admitted.

“I’m a door-to-door vacuum salesman; why would I also try to sell you knives?” asked Hurtt. “We’re not talking about issues that are not relative, or not related to spending.”

The question arises of how a political party primarily concerned with the trespasses of intrusive government could avoid the issues of, say, gay marriage or abortion rights or marijuana use. Or how a party so concerned with spending could avoid talking about a military budget that constitutes more than half of all federal discretionary spending.

Yet it proved a winning strategy. Powered by Tea Party passion and participation, in November 2010, Republicans swept to one of the greatest midterm election victories in U.S. history. Any remaining agenda President Obama might have had was deep-sixed.

The well-organized Republicans, in their hundreds of Tea Party chapters, also won races on levels the disenchanted or indifferent Democratic base didn’t bother to pay attention to. They captured six governorships, giving Republicans a total of 29 nationwide, and took control of 26 state legislatures. In all, Republicans took 680 state legislative seats, the largest number ever gained by an American political party in a midterm election, breaking the record of 628 set by the Democrats right after Watergate.

(Somewhere, Lewis Powell was smiling.)

It was the end of the beginning. A “euphoric” Brandon, celebrating in the wee small hours after the great victory, told reporters, “The Tea Party is done with street protests. We’re done—that’s it. Now we’ve got Congress.”


(Map: TakePart)


He would prove prophetic. Except for occasional, limited rallies, the Tea Party would mostly disappear from the street. Its professionalization proceeded at a rapid pace. Unlike any national institutions on the liberal side, the Tea Party followed a long right-wing tradition in erecting a vocational infrastructure that its members could climb as surely as ward heelers had climbed the old political machines of American urban yore. One by one, the insurgents moved into the sorts of full-time political positions—often remunerative ones—that they had once claimed to despise.

Lloyd became a full-time political consultant, “doing grassroots efforts to push state and federal legislation.” Waverly Woods would become a Ron Paul delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention. Though enraged by the unfair treatment she felt that Paul delegates received at the convention, she took a job as a donor relations officer at the right-wing Leadership Institute, from which over the years have graduated the likes of Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Mitch McConnell. Matthew Hurtt, after rejecting ideas of becoming a teacher or a lawyer, also went to The Leadership Institute, and worked for four years at Response America, a political direct marketing firm. Patrick Bailey, just 30, would leave a job crunching financial figures for S&P Capital IQ on Wall Street to happily crunch numbers in Washington for “a large political data provider.” Brandon became president and CEO of FreedomWorks.

Thanks to their 2010 victories in so many state races that Democrats ignored, Republicans were able to pass the voter suppression laws and draw the gerrymandered districts that contributed to their winning in 2014 their largest House majority since 1928 and capturing the Senate as well. On the state level, Republicans flipped 11 more state legislative chambers to the GOP, for control of 69 of the 99 in the country.

The results gave the Republicans far and away more state legislators and more control over state governments than at anytime since the 1920s. But the Republican Party of the ’20s included plenty of establishment moderates and Bull Moose Progressives—often more liberal than anyone in American politics today.

In other words, the Tea Party and its confederates have succeeded in electing the most right-wing governments in American state and congressional history. This renders mostly moot the debate over whether or not it is a grassroots phenomenon. It is the grassroots now—the culture out of which America’s future leaders will come.

“You’re starting to see that farm team [in the state legislatures] grow to a point where even if we lose individual battles, I really feel we’re winning the long war,” said Brandon.


(Map: TakePart)


What the Future Holds

To the Tea Party mind, there is nothing that cannot be solved by economic growth or government deregulation. This single-minded conviction is reflected in how the Tea Partyers assert their will through the Congress they largely control.

No Tea Party leader will admit that government has any role to play in almost any sphere save the military or law enforcement—a belief that has not existed in such numbers in the United States since probably at least the 1890s and perhaps not since before the Civil War. Brandon, asked about Tea Party stances on social and foreign policy issues, replied, “A strong domestic U.S. economy is critical to being strong in the world. A healthy economy—statistics show, when the economy is growing and it’s healthy, you’re going to have, say, less abortions, and it’s going to be easier to have a family.… The economy is good for just about every one of these social issues. No matter where you stand.”

Bailey expects to see Republicans make major gains across the country in 2016. “People are tired of the government interfering in their lives in completely arbitrary, inappropriate, and unnecessary manners,” he said. “If people are moving toward a more progressive direction, it’s in those areas where they overlap with libertarian goals, such as marriage, marijuana, and criminal justice reform, etc.”

Hurtt speaks movingly of micro-lending and conservative programs to avert prison time for nonviolent offenders, of trying to build up small black- owned businesses and going “into communities who haven’t heard the message or may have been scared by the left of our message, and go in with a message of compassion and limited government, and talk to people, and listen.” He speaks of the drive people have to emigrate and make a better life for their families in America—even if they do so illegally—as “awesome” and something he “want[s] to champion.” He talks of caring for the sick as “a moral obligation” for conservatives.

Unable to break through as a third party, the original Populists let themselves be pulled into the Democratic Party by William Jennings Bryan, with his promises of a reform crusade. That ensured that the Populists’ DNA was preserved in the body politic and committed them to dealing with the whole messy business of the world. From their willingness to take on that reality would flow the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society—the creation of modern America with all of its widespread prosperity, its benefits and rights that we have come to take for granted.

All those efforts are what the Tea Party insists on repealing. The heart of the Tea Party is not just in the Revolutionary War uniforms but the actual revolution. The Tea Partyers claim to hold the highest admiration for the Constitution it brought into being, which is entirely admirable. The American Revolution was indeed a seminal event in human history, and the experiment in democracy it birthed changed the world in all sorts of positive ways.

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What Tea Partyers will not see is what a messy, compromised business the creation of the country, and the Constitution itself, was. Or how flexible a document that Constitution proved to be—had to be to accommodate our incredibly complex, modern, powerful nation of more than 320 million souls, as opposed to the 3 million or so, mostly English colonists and their slaves, clutching the eastern rim of the continent.

Yet the Tea Party’s single-mindedness has proved to be enormously effective. At the moment, there does not seem to be a countervailing force anywhere in our society with the conviction or the ability to stop it.

The Democratic Party may be able to retain the presidency next year, but because the Democrats have no chance of winning back Congress, said president will be unable to deliver any agenda—and a political party that cannot deliver anything is one in serious trouble. As Matthew Yglesias wrote recently for Vox—and as I wrote in The New York Times last fall—the Democratic Party is already listing badly. In large swaths of the country, it is simply ceasing to exist, on every level.

In part this is because the Democrats’ activist base today is a farce, when compared with the well-organized clubs of the Tea Party. Black Lives Matter shoved around the most liberal presidential candidate in a generation. Occupy Wall Street invented the human microphone. The Tea Party took Congress. Who would you put your money on?

In part it’s also because the establishment, in both parties, now makes about as much sense as the Tea Party. Faced with decades of declining wages and opportunities for most Americans, an increasingly lawless corporate and financial elite, and a potential environmental catastrophe, all that the “responsible” people in power can muster is more mumblings about the importance of education—the cost of which is bankrupting college grads everywhere.

If this is all the establishment can come up with, it’s no wonder that the Tea Party’s solution has such appeal: Stay away from our money, and leave us alone.

Yet every American political coalition contains the seeds of its own demise, and the greatest threat to the Tea Party may well come from its closest allies. While the Tea Partyers may have agreed not to talk about social issues amongst themselves, it’s not at all clear that the Republican Party’s evangelicals are willing to do the same. We may be at the start of a presidential race in which Ben Carson and Donald Trump, or maybe Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, square off as surrogates for, respectively, the fundamentalist Christian and Tea Party wings of the GOP.

Already, the House Freedom Caucus is facing considerable pushback from establishment Republicans and their moneyed supporters. If it is to retain its power, the Tea Party will probably not be able to avoid choosing a foreign policy, a process that will be immediately divisive. And if history is any guide, it’s likely to find enormous general resistance to its ideas about privatizing entitlements.

Like the Founding Fathers, Tea Partyers are liable to discover that in many ways, the revolution was the easy part.

“The people in those crowds, they’re not bad people. They’re everyday Americans,” Lloyd said, remembering the Tea Partyers who first crashed the town hall meetings and gathered on the Washington Mall. “They love this country, and they have that fear and anxiety that what’s happening to this country is wrong. It’s destroying everything that we love about it. And…that fear and anxiety creates a real negative thing. It’s destructive.”

Kevin Baker is a journalist, novelist, and historian. He has contributed to Harper’s Magazine for more than 20 years, and he is a winner of the American Book Award.

Additional reporting for this article was conducted by Charles Davis.

King v. Burwell helps repeal ObamaCare

obamacare signingPublic opposition to ObamaCare has lasted far longer than its authors imagined. Unsubsidized consumers avoid ObamaCare coverage. Twenty states have rejected its Medicaid expansion. Congress wants to repeal it. President Obama and the Supreme Court have repeatedly amended and expanded it, transforming the statute Congress enacted into an illegitimate law that no Congress ever had the votes to pass, and making repeal not just an economic imperative but necessary to restore the Constitution’s system of checks and balances.

This week, the House will approve a reconciliation bill that repeals only parts of ObamaCare, leaving many of its taxes in place. Not only do more Americans oppose that approach than oppose ObamaCare itself, but the Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell ruling shows why a full-repeal bill is more likely to reach the president’s desk. Indeed, unlike partial repeal, Senate leaders can all but guarantee that full repeal can pass the Senate with just 51 votes.

Repeal enjoys majority support in both the House and Senate, yet lacks the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster. Senate leaders have therefore vowed to use the budget reconciliation process—which allows legislation to clear the Senate with just 51 votes—to repeal ObamaCare, just as Congress used reconciliation to ensure ObamaCare’s final passage.

House leaders shied away from full repeal, however, partially out of fear that the Senate cannot deliver. Under Senate rules, a reconciliation bill can only contain budgetary provisions. For instance, if the parliamentarian rules a provision’s budgetary effect would only be incidental to its primary effect, the provision needs 60 votes to pass the Senate.

Ironically, the House’s partial-repeal approach—which repeals the individual and employer mandates in isolation, and reduces net spending by just $276 billion over 10 years—is more likely to run afoul of Senate rules than full repeal. Direct cuts account for just $13 billion of that bill’s net spending reduction. The other 95 percent comes from indirect (read: incidental) behavioral effects of repealing those mandates.

A full-repeal bill, by contrast, would recognize that ObamaCare creates a single, integrated program of taxes and subsidies that work in concert to expand coverage, and would eliminate that entire program as a whole. Its primary effect would be budgetary. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), full repeal would eliminate $1.7 trillion of spending and “would reduce deficits during the first half of the decade.” Retaining ObamaCare’s spending cuts would ensure that repeal reduces deficits in perpetuity.

Opponents will try to argue that repealing ObamaCare’s health-insurance regulations (e.g., community rating) would have only an incidental effect on the budget. Yet those regulations are merely part of that larger, integrated program to expand coverage: community rating taxes the healthy to subsidize the sick; the individual mandate enforces those transfers by making part of that implicit tax explicit; additional regulations further enforce that implicit tax; explicit premium subsidies reduce those implicit taxes, and supplement the implicit subsidies, for low-income taxpayers; and the employer mandate imposes an implicit tax on workers that both reduces and offsets direct spending on premium subsidies.

Every relevant authority has held these provisions were designed to create a single, integrated program of taxes and transfers, and has rejected attempts to isolate those regulations from other parts of that program.

ObamaCare’s authors, including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, filed a brief in King v. Burwell where they flatly rejected the idea that those regulations are, or were intended to be, separable from the statute’s “interdependent statutory scheme.”

The Obama administration arguedin King that these regulations are part of an “interdependent,” “interlocking,” and “integrated” set of measures that are “designed to function together” as “a comprehensive program”—as evidenced by the fact that “they would take effect on the same date, January 1, 2014.” In NFIB v. Sebelius, the administration argued “the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions…are inseverable from” the individual mandate.

In NFIB, the Supreme Court held that ObamaCare creates “a comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage.” In King, the Court—including all four Democratic appointees—explicitly rejected the argument that these regulations are separable from the broader coverage-expansion scheme. Those regulations, the Court wrote, are part of an “interlocking” and “intertwined” system that “would not work”without all of its component parts. Echoing ObamaCare’s authors, the Court held it is “implausible” that Congress saw these regulations as independent or separable.

In 2009, CBO concluded that this system is so comprehensive, it very nearly transforms all private insurance into “an essentially governmental program” where “all payments related to health insurance policies should be recorded as cash flows in the federal budget.” CBO admitted its determination that “the insurance market [under ObamaCare] should [still] be considered part of the private sector” was both subjective and a close call. The fact that it was even a close call shows these regulations are part of a single, integrated program that converts insurers into something close to government-sponsored entities.

To treat ObamaCare’s health-insurance regulations as separate from that larger scheme is to renounce the Supreme Court’s King ruling and everything ObamaCare’s authors have said about how the law works. It would amount, to quote the Obama administration, to “seizing on isolated phrases [and] giving them a meaning divorced from statutory context [to] advance a radically different conception of the Act’s operation.”

The Senate Budget Committee can further clarify that these provisions create one integrated program. First, it can ask CBO to score ObamaCare as it scored President Clinton’s essentially identical proposal in 1994, with “all payments related to health insurance policies…recorded as cash flows in the federal budget.” Second, it can adopt that score as the baseline against which the Senate considers reconciliation. Using that baseline would show ObamaCare’s regulations are merely components of a larger program, that all financial effects of repeal would be budgetary, and that Congress may repeal those regulations via reconciliation just as it can repeal rules regulating any other government spending Congress zeroes-out through that process.

If Congress establishes this year that it can fully repeal ObamaCare via reconciliation, and the next president is willing, Congress could repeal ObamaCare for good in 2017. To that end, passing a full-repeal bill, forcing President Obama to veto it, and holding override votes, would further delegitimize this illegitimate law and make ObamaCare a central focus of the presidential election.

By Michael F. Cannon and Paul Winfree. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute and a former domestic policy analyst for the Senate leadership. Winfree is director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former director of income security at the Senate Budget Committee.


The One Question Reporters Never Ask Candidates

Candidates for public office, especially at the state and national levels, are never asked this central question of politics: “Since the people are sovereign under our Constitution, how do you specifically propose to restore power to the people in their various roles as voters, taxpayers, workers and consumers?

Imagine that inquiry starting the so-called presidential debates of both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. I’m not sure any of the candidates – so used to saying “I will do this” and “I propose that” would even know how to respond. Regardless of their affiliation with either of the two dominant parties, politicians are so used to people being spectators rather than participants in the run-up to Election Day that they have not thought much about participatory or initiatory democracy. Too many of them, backed by the concentrated wealth of plutocrats, have perfected the silver-tongued skills of flattery, obfuscation and deception.

Many voters oblige candidates by not doing their homework about the candidates, their records and the issues they want addressed. Such passivity lowers expectations of what voters should demand from the elected officials who, after all, are supposed to hold their delegated power in trust and not sell it to big-money donors.

Let’s begin with voters. How could elected officials empower the people they represent?

Power to the voters would mean eliminating the private money financing public elections. Big commercial interests nullify votes, and turn most elections into low-grade ditto days of tedious repetition.  Well-promoted voluntary checkoffs up to, say $300, can make public financing of elections into a more politically acceptable reform.  But to strengthen the power of voters there must also be more voices and choices on the ballot lines, the Electoral College should be abolished and state legislators must stop gerrymandering districts that ensure seriatim one-party domination. Same-day voter registration and a binding none-of-the-above choice can give more voters  significant leverage as well. Voters themselves must demand that legislative votes by their representatives be immediately put on their public website with their justification.

Taxpayers lack the tools and resources to challenge the many hundreds of billions of federal tax dollars that each year are used illegally, corruptly or are shockingly wasted. Taxpayers have no standing, under our laws, to sue to stop such abuses. They are rendered weak and meek by this exclusion. When will voters hear a candidate pledge to give them their day in court? Another way to increase taxpayer power is to provide for  a voluntary checkoff on the 1040 tax return that makes it easy for taxpayers to voluntarily contribute funds and band together with a full-time staff of watchdogs focused on the government’s waste, fraud and abuse. Big-time leverage is likely with this taxpayer searchlight.

Workers are empowered when they demand that candidates stand for the repeal of the notorious Taft-Hartley act of 1947—the most handcuffing law obstructing union organizing and union rights in the western world. Enforcing fairer labor standards that are already on the books, protecting pensions from looting by corporate management (see http://www.pensionrights.org/), establishing full improved Medicare for all (see http://www.singlepayeraction.org/) and lifting the minimum wage (see http://www.timeforaraise.org/) – all of these initiatives increase the power of workers.

Finally, how can it be that the “customer is always right” when theconsumer has no might? Consumers are becoming serfs in many ways—deceived and tied up by fine print contracts that exclude them from the courts, even if wrongfully injured, and allow vendors, using the same fine print, to unilaterally change contract terms whenever they want. Consumers have no way to easily band together either for collective bargaining or collective justice, such as negotiating away those fine-print contracts and restoring the exercise of trial by jury.

Corporate power, led by the cruel U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., is stripping  consumers of class action remedies, imposing severe penalties and fines in the marketplace and intimidating them from complaining for fear of lowering their credit ratings and credit scores. Add to this the gouging prices for drugs and health care, malpractice, near-zero interest rates on their savings, high rates on credit cards, and vulnerability to unregulated foreign imports of food, medicines and other products, and you have a compelling case for a power shift from  vendors to consumers.

Inserts in billing envelopes or online required by vendors—such as electric, gas and water utilities, banks and insurance companies—inviting consumers to band together in non-profit advocacy organizations, with full time champions, can be a great step forward in getting consumers seats at the tables of power (seehttp://www.citizensutilityboard.org/).

Consider how much of your money and assets the government spends to facilitate business organizations – with subsidies, handouts, bailouts and giveaways, with tax credits and deductions and with privileged bankruptcy laws to give mismanaged or reckless companies second and third chances.

Consumers and taxpayers pay for all these goodies. Where is the reciprocity, where is the modest payback for all these exactions? Let consumers have easy ways to organize, with full time advocates, as bank customers, insurance policyholders, car owners, , energy and credit users, and those simply wanting food that is safe to eat. When enough consumers can organize, through easy checkoffs,  they can defend themselves and make for an efficient and equitable economy.

The appeal of these power shifts is that they come at little or no cost to citizens. No more than the equivalent of one week of the Pentagon’s budget would comprise the aggregate costs of all of these resets for a functioning democratic society. By their own accomplishments, they would save consumers, workers, taxpayers and voters more dollars than the entire Pentagon budget. Not to mention the quality of life, peace of mind and life-saving justice that cannot be measured just in dollars.

Meet your candidates; ask your candidates “The Question Never Asked!”

To find more ideas for citizen empowerment, check out the introduction to the Public Empowerment Act of 1997 athttp://csrl.org/model-laws/introduction-the-public-empowerment-act-of-1997/.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Speaker Paul Ryan is the Tea Party’s greatest triumph

Paul RyanPaul Ryan by AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

People of all political convictions should be excited about Paul Ryan’s assumption of the House speaker’s gavel. Even if you disagree with Ryan’s fiscally conservative politics, you have to admit that the Wisconsin congressman is smart, focused on policy, and generally an honest broker. Regardless of your political affiliation, we should all be happy when the political process puts someone of this caliber in such an important job.

Which raises the question: How did we get such a good speaker?

The short answer is this: Credit the Tea Party.

Without the Tea Party, you wouldn’t have the House Freedom Caucus, made up mostly of rambunctious, hardcore, conservative back-benchers. Without the rabble-rousing Freedom Caucus, John Boehner probably wouldn’t have been driven to resign, and Kevin McCarthy probably wouldn’t have been driven out of the speakership race. Paul Ryan is not exactly a Tea Party firebrand. But he is still highly respected within the Tea Party. And they paved the way to his speakership.

For all of the bleating in opinion columns about the supposed anti-intellectualism of the Tea Party, Ryan’s policy seriousness is very much part of his movement appeal. Tea Partiers (and I count myself among them) are serious about reforming government, and a great many of them actually do understand that you need a serious plan to get it done, not just theatrics. People in the Tea Party also know they’re often disdained as simpletons by elites on both sides of the aisle, and so they very much respect credentialed people who they feel are part of their camp. This is at least partly why the Tea Party likes Ted Cruz (former Supreme Court clerk!) and Ben Carson (former neurosurgeon!).

Another key: The conservative base feels betrayed by politicians they elect who then turn around to pass moderate policies, and they want to see credibility from politicians. The best way to assert credibility is by picking a fight on an unpopular issue. Paul Ryan first became a national figure because he took on entitlement reform, the third rail in U.S. politics. The Tea Party admires his bravery and honesty in sticking to his conservative principles, even when much of the American media and political establishment crush him for it.

I like John Boehner, but it’s clear that he is an insider politician with little taste for serious policy wonkery. He lacks the courage to put forward an ambitious entitlement reform plan on his own. And so it was with the previous Republican speakers of the House. The Tea Party-backed Speaker Ryan, on the other hand, is serious about conservative ideas, and bold in promoting them.

I point this out because this isn’t just true in the House. In general, the Tea Party has elevated a better class of politician. There’s Marco Rubio, who has put forward innovative plans on taxes, on higher education, on jobs with wage subsidies, and, at least until he got cold feet, was a leader on immigration reform (another third rail). There’s Rand Paul who, as a libertarian, is someone I don’t agree with on every issue, but certainly brings much-needed representation of that perspective in the Senate (along with the admirable libertarian Justin Amash in the House, who personally explains every single vote on his Facebook page). There’s Mike Lee who is quickly shaping up to be one of the most important policy leaders in the Senate, taking charge on everything from tax reform to criminal justice reform and even defeating the Big Government Egg Cartel in his spare time (bet you didn’t know that was a thing).

There have been a few Tea Party misfires, like Ted Cruz and that “I’m not a witch” lady, but seven years into the Tea Party, it is now clear that overall, the movement has brought to Washington a class of politicians that, whether you agree with them on the issues or not, are a refreshing improvement over their establishment predecessors.

That’s something everyone should celebrate. So keep it in mind next time you see another column about supposed Tea Party know-nothingism.

Written by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for The Week.

If the Tea Party Is Dying, Why Is Trump Winning?

It is in serious decline, according to the 2015 American Values Survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The proportion of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement has declined by nearly half over the last five years, from 11 percent in 2010 to 6 percent today. Tea Party affiliation has also dropped among Republicans, from 22 percent in 2010 to 14 percent today.

The PRRI survey, which uses a large sample of 2,695 adults, is widely respected. And it has solid support on this finding: In a Bloomberg Politics poll out this week, only 10 percent of Republicans say they’re best described by the Tea Party label.

If the Tea Party is collapsing, what’s filling the void? Only 22 percent of Republicans in the Bloomberg poll described themselves as “mainstream.” That may explain why the spectacularly unpreparedBen Carson and the flagrantly divisive Donald Trump are currently dominating the Republican presidential field. “Mainstream” has simply switched places with “fringe.”

The new mainstream is chock full of Tea Party personality. Just look at the title of the PRRI report: “Anxiety, Nostalgia and Mistrust.” If Trump’s campaign were a symphony, those would be its discordant movements.

To anyone who has watched what Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg calls the Republican “counterrevolution” of recent years, the music sounds familiar.

“Do not get hung up on labels. What used to be the Tea Party is now the GOP,” said Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology at Harvard University and co-author of a book on the Tea Party.

“Even if they no longer identify with the Tea Party, those people are still out there,” said University of Washington political science professor Christopher Parker, co-author of another book on the movement. “So, if you continue observing anti-establishment behavior from GOP representatives, it’s a function of constituents who remain reactionary even as they may no longer identify with the Tea Party moniker.”

The Tea Party might have played a useful role. Even with its decentralized flim-flam and egregious faults, it provided an umbrella with quasi-institutional benefits: It channeled and affirmed anger against the system and against Republican leaders, and it gave its adherents an alternative home — one they found purer, nobler and less compromised than the many objects of their derision.

But in the end, the colonial garb and freedom rallies never amounted to more than a fashion show. They failed to produce the change that Tea Partyers desired above all: making time flow backward. In the PRRI poll, two-thirds of Republicans and almost three-fourths of Tea Party adherents say that American culture and way of life have gotten worse since the 1950s.

Old people naturally tend toward nostalgia. But the collection of groups and notions that banded together as the Tea Party defined itself as a political force, not an old folks’ home. On a personal level, you can reminisce about the tender glories of the 1950s. As a political narrative, you can’t embrace that era without annihilating the real-time aspirations of millions of your countrymen. In American politics, nostalgia is passive aggression.

It’s hard to see a cure for this. The campaign to “take back America” went bust in 2012 when, to the Tea Partyers shock and dismay, America refused to go along. The incomprehensible president remained, incomprehensibly, in the White House. In Congress, the Tea Party agenda has taken the form of a long and tedious tantrum; it will have to peter out eventually. Despite broad and penetrating victories across the states, national Republicans are now the terrified captives of the reactionary pet they nurtured.

Carson cannot grasp the most rudimentary elements of a candidacy: his own positions and message. Trump can’t lead a movement devoted to any cause greater or lesser than Trump. The failure of the Tea Party to organize and coalesce around credible candidates and realistic policy has left the GOP’s anti-establishment faction bankrupt and in decline at a youthful age.

That ought to be enough to safeguard the Republican establishment from a humiliating presidential year. The only question is whether there remains enough of an establishment to seize the opportunity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

Republican Candidates Must Always Be Better Than Their Democratic Opponent

Barack ObamaA candidate for President had a childhood mentor who had been a Nazi. The candidate made up key details about his life and relationships. He attended a church whose pastor routinely attacked the United States and blamed the United States for AIDS, etc. The candidate wrote an autobiography, but there was lots of credible evidence he did not actually write it himself. He even fundraised in the home of a terrorist.

Naturally, because the candidate was a Republican, the press tore him to shreds. He was discredited and driven from the race. Every little half-truth added up to something substantial. The fact that his childhood mentor had been a Nazi compounded the problems. The fact that he fundraised in a terrorist’s home was, in a post-9/11 world, a really big deal even though it happened before 9/11.

Of course, all the details are true of a candidate except one. The Nazi was actually a virulently anti-American communist. The candidate is Barack Obama. The press gave Barack Obama a pass on all these things and never demanded his college transcripts. They gave him a pass on inconsistent biography details such as his literary agent claiming Obama was born in Kenya. They took the literary agent at her word, something they’d never do for Republicans. They never investigated to see if Barack Obama, who few in college with him remembered, might have applied as a foreign student for scholarship or student aid purposes.

Barack Obama also had a composite girlfriend. His autobiography, treated as non-fiction, discussed his relationship with his girlfriend, but she did not actually exist. Again, the media gave him a pass on all this.

Hillary Clinton’s best week on the campaign trail had her admitting she privately told Clinton Runs on Obamacare Benefits, Not Costspeople Benghazi had been a terror attack, but publicly blamed a video. She was given a pass on claims she flew into Bosnia under gun fire, which was not true. She was given a pass on claiming to be named for Sir Edmund Hillary, which she was not.

John Edwards had a mistress on the campaign trail. The media ignored the story and would not touch it. Only after the National Enquirer came out with the story was the media forced to deal it. The first act of the national press corps was to attack the National Enquirer.

When John Kerry made allegations about his service in Vietnam, numerous men who served with John Kerry came forward to say he was not telling the truth. It took a month of the “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” being covered in conservative circles before Brit Hume mentioned it on Special Report only to be ignored by every other media outlet for several more weeks. Even then, the press did their best to dismiss, attack, and demean the men who dared serve with John Kerry and claim he was not telling the truth.

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 93% said, the media is Hillary Clinton’s Super PAC. The media serves as the Democrats’ Super PAC. The national press corps tends to be overwhelmingly more liberal, more secular, more white, and more elitist than the nation as a whole. Many members of the press graduated from posh colleges then joined left-leaning organizations or Democratic campaigns before transitioning into the supposedly “objective” press corp. Their sympathies are for the left and they are more likely to trust left-wing sources. They view their job as activism, not just reporting facts so people can make up their own minds. They belive in narratives, which shape how they report stories, choosing to ignore any facts that shake their narrative. Kermit Gosnell, after all, was a local crime story and Wendy Davis was a national sensation.

The right must try harder. The Republican candidates must be better and more polished throughout the campaign cycle because the press is more likely to believe the left than the right due to their biases.

Recently, ABC News put up video demanding everyone be outraged by Carly Fiorina for not correcting a man who said something wrong about President Obama. The press not only never corrects President Obama when he is wrong, but they surely do not expect him to correct other people. They do not do that for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but by God Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump better stop any questioner who dares suggests something not true about the President.

Now, conveniently, polling shows Dr. Ben Carson is the most liked and most trusted candidate out there in the Republican Primary. So a series of stories are now trickling out casting down on Ben Carson’s veracity. First, the Politico hit Ben Carson with claims that Carson claimed to have applied to and been accepted by West Point.

That was not true. But it also was a claim Ben Carson never made.

Now it appears Ben Carson got his months wrong for a meeting he had with General Westmoreland roughly forty years ago. The press pounced on that and more readily excused Barack Obama’s composite girlfriend than excused Ben Carson for being off by three months on when he met General Westmoreland in Detroit.

These attacks are no doubt planted by a campaign as the national press corps is too damn lazy to inspect any of this without it being spoon fed to them. There are, mind you, no stories out there about any of the other campaigns beginning oppo dumps on Carson. But much of the coverage of Ben Carson and his supposedly misstatements turn out to be more wrong than anything Ben Carson said.

At this point, the media demands website hits to make ends meet. The story needs to be first, not necessarily right, and the more salacious it is, the better. If a story comes out wrong, the inevitable links back to the original story will still drive revenue.

The press will give latitude to their friends on the Democratic side more than the Republican side. They will sooner believe Hillary Clinton landed in Bosnia under gunfire than that Ben Carson met General Westmoreland, who most of the press corps does not even know or appreciate who he was.

Republican candidates should always point out media bias. We should point out the double standards. We should point out the press is lying, fabricating, misstating, or forging facts. But we should also understand that the press still can penetrate into the minds of many Americans who are otherwise tuned out. Our candidates are given no flexibility and must always be on the top of their game.

As we head toward picking a nominee, we should be mindful of that fact. We can complain all we want, but we must also deal with the reality in which our candidates are running for President.

Meet the Real Electorate

Marco Rubio speaking

Marco Rubio took to the ballroom stage two weeks ago in Pittsburgh’s Omni William Penn Hotel, the robber baron-era grande dame that has hosted every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt.

Rubio’s pitch was better than flawless. It was natural, genuine; it so captivated the audience that a pin could have dropped in the room and everyone would have flinched at the annoyance.

In the gilded ballroom sat Western Pennsylvania business people, elected officials, Republican activists and a healthy number of young people not usually found at such events – a changing guard mingling with the establishment to hear the freshman Florida senator’s pitch to be the GOP’s presidential nominee.

Even the hotel staff paused and watched from the balcony. It was the largest audience in the history of the state Republicans’ annual fundraising event — and this in a state whose presidential primary rarely matters because of its late-spring timing.

Rubio effectively persuaded the across-the-board mix of conservatives, even as the political class eagerly proclaimed that entertainer Donald Trump has a lock on the nomination.

Optics aren’t everything in American politics but they sure are a big part of winning over persuadable voters and skeptics. Rubio owned the visual part of the winnowing process for voter support in Western Pennsylvania, and again hours later at an event near Youngstown, Ohio.

We are talking rust-belt America here and in two of the three other must-win states needed to capture the presidency. (The third is Rubio’s home state, Florida.)

Historically, our presidential primaries are a revolving door of frontrunners; typically, their sustainability depends on how well they handle scrutiny by the press and voters.

This race is no different, with the exception that it is occurring in the midst of a populist wave, a phenomenon that usually falls during a midterm rather than a presidential year. So the energy, optics and scrutiny are louder, more volatile — but the process remains intact.

In short, we will give each candidate their moment in the sun, which might be longer or shorter depending on the individual, but the scrutiny remains the barometer by which Republicans will choose their nominee.

And despite what many say, this race is no lock for anyone. It is fluid, nimble, energetic and curious, all of the things you want when determining your party’s nominee.

This populist streak running through the electorate is so misunderstood. First and foremost, it is not the tea-party movement that ended before the last presidential election cycle.

Oh, disruptive voters and candidates are given that label by analysts lacking the intellectual capacity to dig deep or to understand history and political movements. And the “pay for purity” hucksters try to keep it alive and prey on voters’ fears, so they can make money or become cable-famous with groups whose names include “Patriot,” “Tea Party,” “Freedom” or “Liberty.”

This populist streak began in 2013, its power and effect built without much notice; it was focused on economic freedom and electing people who would get things done — the “doers” of the world – rather than the tea party’s strict ideology.

Just go through the list of 2014’s winners: You’ll see the evidence in the economics professor who upended former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the string of big Senate wins in Colorado, Arkansas, West Virginia, Iowa.

If you understood 2014, you will understand this primary process — but if you thought Kansas would really go Democrat, or Texas’ John Cornyn would lose his Senate seat, or Mitch McConnell would lose in the primary or general elections of 2014, then you won’t.

Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businesswoman Carly Fiorina still are very much part of this primary process.

The question should never have been, “Can anyone stop Donald Trump?” It always should have been, “Do you understand the intelligence, needs and wherewithal of the Republican electorate?” — the real electorate, not the fringy people who bleed talk-radio script and devour social-media spats.

The truth of this year’s cycle always has been that any candidate can tap the Republican base’s energy next year.

The other truth is that everyone seems to have misread that.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com

Could Obama Be the Democratic Party’s Worst Enemy?

WASHINGTON  — It’s one of the most important political trends in decades: years and years of losses at the ballot box for the Democratic Party, both in Congress and at the state level across the country.

And when did it start?  When Barack Obama became president.

“One almost feels sorry for the Democrats,” said Lee Edwards, a courtly gentleman historian at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill.

Edwards told CBN News huge Republican wins on Election Day 2015 just add to the 2010 Tea Party revolution and 2014’s election night.

“Which was a GOP tsunami,” Edwards commented.  “And yet this White House and Democrats are trying to put on a happy face and say ‘Well, this is terrific and we’re going to look forward to what’s going to happen in 2016.'”

But President Obama will leave his party in much worse shape than he found it.  And the actual numbers show it in stark detail.

When Obama took office in 2009, Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers in Congress, with Nancy Pelosi as House speaker and Harry Reid running the Senate.  More than half the state governors were Democrats, and in state legislatures, Democrats had full control in 27 states.

Today, after nearly seven years of Obama as president, Democrats have lost 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 U.S. House seats, 12 state governorships and a whopping 910 seats in state legislatures.  And now, the GOP controls both the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature in 24 states.

“This president said, ‘I’m going to be a transformational president.’  Well it seems to be what he’s done is to transform the Democratic Party into a minority party.  And that’s not a transformation the Democrats want,” Edwards said.

As a student of political history, Edwards has studied U.S. presidents in-depth.

He said of Obama, “He’s the most self-absorbed president that we’ve had in modern times, maybe in American history.  He believes in himself so deeply that he does not listen to and look at the returns at the ballot box.  I’m sure Democrats from the House and the Senate are saying to him, ‘Look, can’t we maybe take a second look at these issues?'”

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s comments after the latest round of Democratic losses show that the administration isn’t backing down on its liberal positions.

“There have been other Democrats that have sought to run on this agenda, and they’ve been served well by making that decision,” Earnest told the White House press corps.

But that agenda – including issues like Obamacare and gun control – failed to help Democrats in key elections November 3 where Republicans kept control of the state Senate in Virginia and took the governor’s mansion in Kentucky for only the second time in decades.

Still, Obama has stuck with his policies no matter how much they’ve hurt his own party. And Edwards said there’s a reason for that – the president’s utter faith that he’s right.

“He’s stuck in believing himself to be the most brilliant president maybe since Thomas Jefferson,” the Heritage historian said.

Like all presidents, Obama wanted a strong, positive historical legacy.  But the reality is, a major part of his legacy will be his own party decimated by years of historic election losses, both in the nation’s capital and across the country.

Could Obama be the Democratic Party’s worst enemy?

By Paul Strand, CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent