When the Tea Party movement arose in response to President Barack Obama's presidency, it represented a loose coalition of activists, conservative leaders, and Republicans who voiced furious opposition to the federal government and the Democratic Party for a variety of reasons. But as the movement coalesced into a group with actual power, it promoted politicians to Congress who primarily committed themselves to cutting government spending and reducing deficits as their primary raison d'être.
But now, as conservative writer Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner wrote, President Donald Trump has thoroughly given up on that central tenet of the movement.
"President Trump once vowed to drain the swamp, but by joining with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the latest budget deal, he has merely drained it of the Tea Party," Klain wrote.
The new deal doesn't cut spending at all, and puts the country on track for a trillion-dollar deficit, as Politico reported. There were previous signs, of course, that Trump had no real interest in reducing deficits, despite his contrary promises. The 2017 GOP tax cut was itself a deficit-buster, and its Republican defenders only made half-hearted efforts to pretend that it would create so much growth that it would pay for itself. But the hypocrisy of not counting tax cuts toward the deficit was actually a feature of the Tea Party's double-talk, too. By agreeing to a budget with a large spending increase, Trump is forcing the Republican Party to give up even this thinnest of pretenses.
This is particularly ironic, given that Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was a prominent member of the Tea Party and opponent of spending in the House of Representatives. Politico suggests that Mulvaney pushed back against the increase in spending, but his views didn't prevail. The fact reveals that, as many have argued, the "Tea Party" as it was conceived of by the rank and file — who never really care about deficits — was quite different from the way politicians in Congress portrayed it.
And ultimately, almost no one but handwringing D.C. pundits will care. There's little sign that the deficit poses a major burden to the country at the moment.
Klein wrote that "Trump’s Republican Party may want to dismiss the importance of the debt, but the numbers don’t lie." But the "numbers" he cites are just the high debt and deficit, which in themselves don't prove that there's anything worth worrying about. It's possible at some point that interest rates will spike and the American debt burden will get drastically more serious, but deficit hawks have been screaming about this risk for a decade, and it hasn't happened yet.
The biggest worry, though, is that Republican hypocrisy hasn't gone away for good. As soon as a Democrat is in control of the White House again, deficit paranoia is certain to overcome the GOP once again. They'll fight tooth and nail about every minor spending increase the Democratic Party wants, to say nothing of how they'll react to ambitious spending programs like a Medicare for All proposal. Worst of all, if the next Democratic presidency happens to coincide with another recession, Republicans are guaranteed to point to the deficits that Trump himself expanded as a reason to do nothing to ameliorate the harm. They'll likely even call for austerity, which would exacerbate the crisis.