Rachel M. Blum, "How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics" (U Chicago Press, 2020)


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The discussion of factions in American politics is as old as the republic itself. But there is more to consider, particularly in terms of the way that contemporary factions operate within our current political landscape. Political Scientist Rachel Blum, in her new book, How The

How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics (U Chicago Press, 2020), focuses on the Tea Party’s rise, as a new faction within a long line of factions, and how the Tea Party infiltrated the Republican Party—impacting the disposition of the party itself and how it now operates. Blum’s personal background and political interests contributed to her capacity to analyze and evaluate the strategies and approaches used by the Tea Party, helping her to understand the structure and the sometimes-confusing tactics that these activists used to pursue their goals. Blum’s book also examines the Republican Party as an organization that, at its core, is aimed at getting Republicans elected to office, and how the Tea Party was able to take advantage of the structure and organization of the GOP at the most local levels, as well as at state and national levels, to aid in the drive to activate the Tea Party agenda within the Republican Party itself. Ultimately, the Tea Party would push against the GOP like a party within a party.

How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics is a multi-method investigation into the Tea Party and the Republican Party, constructed out of an elaborate collection of evidence including network analysis, the use of text-as-data, and long-form interviews with Tea Party activists. Blum started her research as a result of a conversation with a Tea Party activist in 2012 where, rather than discussing President Obama’s re-election, Obamacare, or government spending, Blum was surprised to find the activist preferred to discuss their distrust of the Republican Party. Why would this lifelong Republican choose to be upset with his own party, rather than with the Democrats? This is the question that drove Blum’s investigation of political polarization within the Republican party itself, and this led to a complex matrix of approaches to weave together the analysis of what was going on between the Tea Party and the Republican Party. Blum’s understanding of factions within factions presents a new way to understand the Tea Party’s political strategies, but it also helps us to understand the more expansive polarization across the political spectrum in the United States. Blum’s work also outlines how candidate Donald Trump picked up on the topics and the rhetoric of the Tea Party, and how the Trump/MAGA faction has also been able to take over the current Republican Party. How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics is an elegant and articulate exploration of the Tea Party, including an analysis of the Tea Party strategies, message, and its insurgent approach to politics. How the Tea Party Captured the GOP also formulates a lesson that guides the reader to better understand party dynamics, both inside the parties themselves and in competition with each other.

Shaina Boldt assisted with this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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