Thursday, January 28, 2021

Rachel Blum's "How the Tea Party Captured the GOP"

Rachel M. Blum is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of the book’s concluding chapter: “When Factions Take Over Parties.” Two quotes serve as epigraphs. The first is from Federalist 10 (“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.”), and the second is from political philosopher Hannah Arendt (“The real question to ask is: what will we lose if we win?”) The two paragraphs of text that follow juxtapose the two general perspectives that I encountered in my research: one that took the Tea Party seriously, and one that did not.

Page 99 performs very well as a single-page summary of the book. It introduces the question that motivates the concluding chapter: What do factions (and parties) lose when factions win? Each of the chapters of the book considers a question about factions in the U.S. party system, ranging from what factions are to how factions are structured. With this empirical foundation established, the concluding chapter explores the tradeoffs between the benefits of factions (e.g., providing avenues for dissent in a two-party system), and the costs (e.g., pushing a party to the extremes, causing chaos in nominations).

The two paragraphs of text leave the reader with a brief summary of the many interviews and conversations I had with Tea Party activists and critics, highlighting the depth of my research. They also invite the reader to consider their own perspective on the Tea Party. Do they regard it as a political force to be reckoned with? Or do they write it off as an awkward episode? These questions grow timelier by the day, as we continue to witness the impact a faction can have on the country as a whole when it seizes the reins of power from one of the two major parties. The Tea Party was not powerful enough on its own to run a successful presidential candidacy or influence policymakers. But through a process of strategically undermining the Republican party in downstream elections and co-opting its organizational machinery, the Tea Party was able to shake its host party—and the country—to its core.
Visit Rachel Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue