On the 27th of August on a cool Saturday morning, conservative Americans dressed in their most patriotic clothing began to converge onto the Napa Valley Expo in California. What was traditionally used to host county fairs and craft festivals was being transformed into a rally with disgruntled Americans, upset with the current economic situation and the Obama administration. Under the banners of American Flags, the Tea Party Express was about to kick-off their 5th nationwide bus tour across America, spending two weeks crisscrossing through 18 states with 30 stops before they would settle in Tampa, Florida, partnering with CNN for the first Tea Party Express republican presidential debate.
Founded by the Sacramento Political Action Committee Our Country Deserves Better in the summer of 2009, the Tea Party Express has emerged as one of the leading and more powerful Tea Party groups in America. Standing on six main principles; No more bailouts, reduce the size of government, stop raising taxes, repeal “Obamacare”, cease out-of-control spending and bring back American prosperity, they’ve continued to take their message on the road, capitalizing on cross-country bus tours, targeting small-town conservative strongholds where Reagan economics and Christian family values run deep. Their biggest victory to date was felt in the fall of 2010 during the midterm elections when Tea Party endorsed candidates helped the Republicans re-take control of the U.S. House of Representatives after four years of Democratic control.
With scheduled stops into small conservative communities, the Tea Party Express buses headed east through the American heartland stopping twice a day en route to Florida. Focusing on early primary states, this year’s tour offered presidential candidates a platform to address local Tea Party supporters but most candidates declined, still unsure if aligning themselves with the movement would benefit or destroy their campaign. From city parks to parking lots, the rallies were much smaller then years past, some drawing as little as 14 people. With such low turnouts, was the Tea Party movement faltering or have people become numb to the movement? While traveling with the Tea Party Express for two weeks, I asked this question daily even while small throngs of supporters waited in angst for their buses to arrive, modern day prophets of the constitution, American people and the Tea Party way. Decorated head to toe in their most patriotic clothing, each rally began with the pledge of allegiance before they all fell into prayer, mobilizing the small group of supporters with talks of Christianity and Conservatism all under one roof, their rally cry for the movement.
With the Republican primaries only a few months away and no clear frontrunner going into 2012, the Tea Party Express has yet to officially back anyone. With early primary Tea Party favorites Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain sliding in the polls, will the movement back Mitt Romney, someone revered by the majority of the Tea Party supporters for his support of “Obamacare” and taking both sides on many issues? With the world casting their eyes on the growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement and summarizing their influence on next year’s presidential elections, the Tea Party movement will only grow stronger amongst conservative voters and the far right.