Tea Party Sees Ruling As New Rallying Cry

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Some of the earliest and most vocal opponents of President Obama's health care law were members of the Tea Party. In fact, health care quickly became the issue fueling the rise of the movement.

Anger over the Affordable Care Act drove the Tea Party and Republicans to big gains in the 2010 elections, but since then the movement has seen its prominence and influence wane.

Now, Tea Party activists say the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the law will reignite that original passion in time for this fall's election.

Call For Repeal Continues

The Tea Party was present and accounted for in large numbers on the steps outside the Supreme Court on Thursday as details of the ruling spread. But as disappointing as the 5-4 decision was for activists, their focus quickly shifted to the fight ahead.

"Let us not forget that it was a Democrat president, a Democrat Senate, a Democrat House of Representatives that chose for the first time in the history of the United States to force the American people to buy a product or service against their will," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told Tea Party activists outside the court.

Tea Party member Dina Littlehouse, a mother of two from Virginia, said she was using the ruling as a teachable moment for her young kids, standing by her side outside the court.

"I need them to understand that freedom is always in danger," said Littlehouse. "And I need them to use every civil means possible to fight against it and to reinstitute freedom in our society."

David Spielman is a campaign coordinator with FreedomWorks, a group that was instrumental in launching the Tea Party movement back in 2009. He saw a silver lining in Thursday's ruling.

"It refocuses us for 2012. We need to focus on flipping the Senate and getting a new conservative majority, kicking [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] out of his position. And we need to beat Obama," said Spielman.

Since the 2010 elections, the Tea Party has been somewhat eclipsed in Republican politics by the party's leadership in Congress and by the long fight for the presidential nomination. Public approval for the Tea Party has fallen off significantly as well.

But this loss in the Supreme Court could provide a brand new rallying cry.

David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron, shares this anecdote from moments after the Supreme Court ruling came down:

"I got a text from a friend who said, 'Can you say Tea Party? I'm joining.' And I think that captures a lot of the sentiment out there of people that maybe were standing on the sidelines interested in politics, maybe angry about some things, and this certainly is going to be one of those formative moments that may push some people to actually get involved," Cohen said.

November Implications

Cohen notes that absent the effort to overhaul the nation's health care system, there might not even be a Tea Party. But he cautions that this is a two-edged sword for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"First of all, it's going to energize a base that hasn't been that crazy about him," he said.

That helps Romney. But the more Romney says things the Tea Party likes, the more he could be hurt with the independent voters he needs in the general election, said Cohen.

"There's no question that Romney could be hurt with independents if he continues to hold a hard right position on issues like health care," Cohen said.

For those already aligned with the Tea Party, the court's ruling underscores the importance of this November. And they promise to be more visible and audible than ever.

"This is not over," said Keli Carender, a national grass-roots director for the Tea Party Patriots, protesting outside the Supreme Court on Thursday. "And if you thought that November 2010 was historic, you just wait for November 2012."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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