It was four years ago that CNN partnered with the tea party movement to host the first ever Tea Party Presidential Debate. That debate was confirmation that the movement had arrived and finally had the attention of the establishment and the media. Here we are four years later and many would like to write the tea party off as finished. Not so fast.
Tonight, CNN will host their first republican debate of the 2016 presidential cycle. There will be 11 candidates on the main debate stage and four candidates in the happy hour debate. Of the 11 candidates on the main stage, six are tea party candidates, including businessman Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Scott Walker and Senator Rand Paul. Of the elected officials, Rubio, Walker and Paul were elected in 2010 riding the tea party wave. Ted Cruz was elected in 2012 with tea party support.
Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson are both tea party, but neither has held public office. They both have courted the movement for an extended period of time. Carson courted evangelicals as an author for years. Trump was meeting with tea party groups and speaking at tea party events across the nation in early 2011.
I know Donald Trump has been a supporter of the tea party movement for a long while. I received a personal note from him several years ago. He had read an article I was quoted in and was so supportive of my efforts, he tore the page out, wrote me a short note, signed it and mailed it to me. At that time, I had never met Donald Trump. I still haven’t met him. However, I know he has been supportive of the movement, not just through his public events, but through his private actions as well.
On the eve of the CNN debate, using Real Clear Politics numbers, the six aforementioned tea party candidates, have a combined total of 67 percent of support from Republican primary voters.
The most recent poll is the CBS/NYT poll (9/9-9/13) showing tea party candidates with 66 percent of total support.
In the last CNN/ORC poll (9/4-8), support was even higher for tea party candidates with a whopping 69 percent.
Many cringe at the tea party label, so instead, let’s look at the amount of support for the outsiders. The outsiders include Trump, Carson, Cruz and Fiorina. Three of them have never been elected. Ted Cruz, who is hated by the Republican establishment more than Obama, is definitely an outsider.
Recent polling for the outsiders isn’t much different than polling for tea party candidates. The Real Clear Politics average shows 58.6 percent support for the outsiders, with CBS/NYT showing 59 percent support. The CNN/ORC poll shows 61 percent support.
The establishment is sinking and sinking fast. When looking at the amount of support for establishment candidates (Bush, Huckabee, Kasich, Christie, Santorum, Jindal and Graham), the RCP combined total is a paltry 19.1 percent of Republican Primary voters. That total doesn’t include the 4.3 percent supporting businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Some would argue she isn’t establishment. Others would argue although Fiorina has never held office, she is indeed a part of the establishment. Either way, the establishment doesn’t garner enough support to represent even a fourth of Republican primary voters.
So, what can we expect from the CNN debate? It’s reasonable to expect everyone to attack the front-runner on the debate stage. In fact, it already started. Today, an organization run by DC elites, announced a $1 million ad buy to run attack ads against Trump.
This is only the beginning. Politics is a rough and tumble sport. The attacks are going to get worse and become more frequent, not only by the establishment, but by other candidates gasping for air in the 2016 campaign vacuum.
As the candidates duke it out on the debate stage and airwaves, the grassroots should be proud to know that the tea party is still alive and influential in this presidential cycle. Not only do the number of tea party candidates outweigh the number of establishment candidates on the debate stage, the tea party candidates outweigh the number of outsider candidates.
But in the end, voters matter most. When measuring support from voters, the tea party and outsiders win again. Both have the majority of support from Republican primary voters. The candidates of the decaying establishment enjoy only a smattering of support.
Donald Trump’s personal note to me back in 2011 was words of encouragement. Today, I want to encourage all of the tea party candidates to continue to carry the torch of liberty on the debate stage and in their daily campaigning. I also want to encourage Carly to continue to shine as the only woman in this debate.
CNN took a big gamble with the first ever tea party presidential debate and it was very successful. I am grateful for the opportunity and platform that debate gave the tea party movement. Now, while there may not be a debate branded with the tea party label, as long as the tea party candidates stay in the race and participate in debates, every debate is a tea party debate.
I think it can be said that the establishment has been trumped. No pun intended.
Amy Kremer is one of the founders of the modern day tea party movement. Although no longer with them, she is a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots and former Chairman of Tea Party Express.