Accounts of that February 16 meeting challenge a common perception that the Tea Party movement was founded, funded and dominated by the Republican Party. Most of them are current or former Republicans — up to 80 percent or more, with the rest split between Democrats, independents and Libertarians. And the movement has received help from conservative groups like FreedomWorks, which has provided training and logistical support to Tea Party groups and hopes the movement will boost fiscal conservatives in congressional midterm elections.
But Tea Partiers insist that they are not beholden to the GOP and warn that Republican candidates counting on an endorsement from them in November may well be disappointed.
Interviews with Tea Partiers across the country paint a picture of a genuine, amorphous, conservative grassroots movement united by three core principles: constitutionally limited government, free market ideology and low taxes. The American Constitution is a rallying cry and many now dub themselves “constitutional conservatives.”
They are angry not just at what they describe as the socialist policies of U.S. President Barack Obama. They also feel Republican politicians have betrayed the party’s ideals. For many in the movement, purging the party of moderate Republicans is a major goal.
One major question Tea Partiers want to know, to see if the GOP is serious about standing for conservative principles: If the Republicans gain ground in the next election, are they up to the task of reforming entitlements in the face of massive baby-boomer retirements?