A Lament for the Tea Party

It was 2013 and I was sitting in my office when one of my co-workers shuffled in. He had a headache, he said, the result of a campaign he was running for a position in local Republican politics that had unexpectedly turned rocky. The problem was the voters: they had tagged him as an establishment man and no matter how many times he touted his conservative bona fides, he couldn’t seem to dispel their skepticism. “Only one thing matters now,” he said, “immigration. They’re just livid about that.”

Looking back, that conversation marked, for me anyway, the moment that the Tea Party began to change, from a loosely woven coalition of activists worried about big government to the right-wing nationalist force that would eventually elect Donald Trump. (The brightest indicator of all would come a year later, when Dave Brat knocked off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary by running a campaign obsessed with immigration.) The causes of the Tea Party’s mutation were many: anger with Washington intransigence, the imprint of charlatans…

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