On the campaign trail, I always described the Tea Party as an "open mic night," or a forum to redress our grievances. It came into being to fill a niche that neither party allows—dissent. Americans who normally put in their day's work, arrive home to their spouses and kids, and go to school events and soccer games are largely ignored by Washington, but they are now worried enough to march in the streets. As much as the Left wants to depict the Tea Party as an angry mob, it is better described as a multitude of concerned and worried average citizens who have spontaneously banded together because they fear the consequences of massive overspending and debt. I've traveled thousands of miles across Kentucky over the past year, and I've met the Tea Party, one person at a time, one city at a time. They often come from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds but unite to address head-on the daunting problems facing our nation. And although they come together, they never really come together too much. There really is no Kentucky Tea Party—simply independent groups, organized by city, inspired by patriotism and informed by common sense.
Has there been a movement in the last hundred years where in many cities across the country people just spontaneously show up for a protest? This happened on April 15, 2009 in about ten cities in Kentucky but probably over a thousand cities nationwide. This is quite amazing when you consider that not only do the Tea Parties not communicate with one another, but they don't really communicate with anyone nationally. Each group values its own autonomy. In my experience, the Tea Party doesn't have aspirations to coalesce as a national organization in large part because they so dislike rules and authority. Tea Partiers often don't like to have politicians speak at their events because they don't want to be too attached to the political machine, unlike Republican or Democratic gatherings where the politicians do all the talking and citizens are rarely given a forum to express their opinion. Such party meetings are typically made up of a small clique of partisan insiders who jealously guard their own political turf.
The Tea Party is the opposite: a large group of unabashed, nonpartisan outsiders who want everyone to have their say yet doggedly reject letting a single individual or a handful of individuals speak for them or the movement. I said time and again throughout my campaign that the Tea Party movement equally chastises both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, this has always fit me to a tee, since my constant criticism of my own party's job performance is one of the reasons that I was not endorsed by establishment Republicans during the 2010 primary. Many conservatives were outraged over Bush's deficits and spending. They felt betrayed, and rightfully so. The dominant message of the Tea Party is fear that our national debt and budget deficit—the fault of both parties—will destroy our nation. Though the movement is heavily decentralized—and what some might call disorganized - advocating for a much smaller, leaner federal government continues to be its one unifying principle.