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The Tea Party Movement in Pennsylvania: A New Brand of Populism?

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The Faces of Contemporary Populism in Western Europe and the US
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Based on the nine-month fieldwork I did in Pennsylvania in 2014–2015, this article argues that the rhetoric Tea Party activists use, the very nature of the movement, and the tactics they put in place aim at changing the GOP from within and taking power away from politicians and giving it back to the people. In this sense, populist rhetoric is the glue that binds an otherwise very diverse conservative movement together by giving it a common language, a common frame but also common aims.

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    Anthony DiMaggio, The Rise of the Tea Party: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama, Monthly Review Press, 2011, 287 pp.

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    In 2010, Mike Kelly and Pat Toomey who both received support from Tea Party groups in the state were elected. The first became the representative for Pennsylvania’s 16th district and the latter started his term as Pennsylvania’s junior senator.

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    In 2008, there were 104 Democrats and 99 Republicans in the State assembly. In 2010, the number of Democrats dropped to 91 and that of Republicans rose to 112. In 2016, the trend continued with 82 Democrats and 121 Republicans.

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    This fieldwork was made possible thanks to a scholarship from the Georges Lurcy Foundation.

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    Each grassroots group held monthly meetings. At these events, they discussed bills that were about to be voted on and the tactics they could put in place. A speaker was also invited to address a topic like immigration, Obama’s healthcare law, gun rights, etc.

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    At the national level, think tanks such as The Heritage Foundation, The CATO Institute, The Mises Institute provide activists with studies and figures to finetune their arguments. At the state level, in Pennsylvania, The Commonwealth Foundation provides the same service.

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    Talk-show hosts are crucial to Tea Party mobilization both at the national and at the state level. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levine are just three examples of people who have a national audience and who have played a decisive role in educating and mobilizing activists. In Pennsylvania, this role was held by Dom Giordano in Philadelphia and Rose Tennent and Jim Quinn in Pittsburgh.

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    This idea was popularized by the talk-show host Mark Levin who wrote a book outlining what the amendments to the Constitution should be. See Mark Levin, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, Threshold Editions, 2013, 273 pp. This idea has led to many debates within conservative ranks.

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Douzou, M. (2021). The Tea Party Movement in Pennsylvania: A New Brand of Populism?. In: Tournier-Sol, K., Gayte, M. (eds) The Faces of Contemporary Populism in Western Europe and the US. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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