Accompanying the inevitable reality of Donald Trump's meteoric rise to the Republican Party's presumed nominee for the 2016 election are repeated recriminations over who caused him.
The billionaire candidate has harnessed the anger of the Tea Party base with a seeming desire for pragmatism on social issues, coupled with a desire for a shift in the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy. His candidacy has begun to scramble the ideological map for many rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans, even if it has not done so at the institutional level.
While Trump is many things -- a nationalist, an outsider, a populist who appeals to his supporters' sense of anger and grievance -- he is not a member of the Tea Party. The Tea Party was a fundamentally different political movement than the Trump campaign; the main commonality between the two is the fierce anger at Barack Obama's administration.
But on issues of ideology and philosophy of government, the Tea Party is quite different from Trump and efforts to identify Trump supporters as "Tea Partiers" are working within an outdated political model.
Despite the prominence of Tea Party supporters such as Sen. Ted Cruz over the past few years, the Tea Party reached its peak of influence between 2010 and 2012. The 2010 midterm elections marked the high point of the Tea Party's influence with the Republican Party, leading to the GOP taking 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, and 6 governorships -- not to mention the stunning wave which the Tea Party rode into statehouses across the country in those years.
The Tea Party maintained enough significance in the wake of defeat in the 2012 presidential election that Sen. Ted Cruz was to stop the passage of a continuing resolution funding the federal government. This was probably a bridge too far; while the Republicans increased their control of the House and gained the Senate in 2014, they did so by essentially decimating what they saw as the destructive influence of the Tea Party on the GOP's future electoral chances, according to Jon Terbush of The Week. The plan seemed to have worked.
Trump is a different creature. The Tea Party's main issues were taxes, regulations, reining in entitlements and the size of government; Trump's main issues are trade deals, immigration, and a fierce opposition to "political correctness." They share similarities, sure, but they are hardly one and the same.
As The Atlantic's Molly Ball notes in an article today, Trump's candidacy has essentially carved out a new nationalist wing of the Republican Party, which happens to be decidedly less hostile to left-wing economic and social ideas than are either traditional "establishment" Republicans or members of the Tea Party. His popularity among voters indicates that they are surely buying what he's selling, and his candidacy has confounded the "establishment" itself: Mitt Romney, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz all oppose Trump, while Jon Huntsman, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, and Bob Dole have urged the party to unite behind him.
Trump has essentially harnessed the pent-up anger from much of the Tea Party base -- at least the portion of the base which supports him, and not candidates like Cruz. But Trump is not a Tea Partier, and never was a Tea Partier. There is no doubt he would be a different kind of president to the sort we are used to, but there is absolutely no indication that Trump will pursue any kind of Tea Party initiative once in office -- except to maybe cut taxes drastically.