At the end of July, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) declared the “death of the Tea Party in America.” The mark, according to Paul, was the Trump-Pelosi budget deal that busted the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — inarguably the Tea Party movement’s greatest legislative accomplishment.
Fast forward to Saturday in Fredericksburg, within Paul’s boyhood home state, and you wouldn’t know the son of famous libertarian Texan Ron Paul had declared the end of the movement.
Around 250 people gathered in the heart of Texas’ Hill Country, brandishing their boots and devouring barbecue, to support the organization that inspired many of them involved in politics in the first place.
The event’s headliner was a panel consisting of former acting director of ICE, Tom Homan; executive vice president of Gun Owners of America John Velleco; and Tea Party favorite, Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX-21).
Three symbols draped the stage: an American flag, a Texan flag, and a cross — the combination of which, attendees and speakers alike agreed, represents the ultimate societal goal of liberty.
Warts and all, American liberty and its preservation are what motivated the Fredericksburg Tea Party to metastasize back in 2009 and conceptually what motivates them to this day. They are animated so much by these ideals that the group sends its members up every week during the Texas legislative session to engage with legislators during committee hearings.
Before the panel started, I sat down next to a couple chatting with another attendee whom they seemed to have just met. When I asked the group how they were feeling at this moment about 2020, each responded optimistically.
Pointing to the economy and headway made on immigration, the trio was enthused at the prospect of Donald Trump’s reelection.
One thing they were concerned about was the tweeting.
The man sitting next to me said, “He doesn’t do himself any favors. I wish someone would take his phone away.” But as far as what the president has done while in office, each was extremely pleased and were chomping at the bit to vote for him again.
I then spoke to a pair of good friends named Fred and Steve from Kerrville. Both were also excited about the Trump presidency and the 2020 campaign.
Steve said he was unconvinced in 2016 of Trump’s conservative acumen, but as soon as the primary ended Steve was all in on Trump because of the alternative.
Since then, Steve suggested, the president has impressed him time and time again. He said he doesn’t mind the president’s rhetoric, on or off Twitter.
“Anyone that has read Art of the Deal knows this is who he is and part of his negotiating strategy,” Steve said.
Fred was particularly austere at the prospect of Millennials’ relative hostility toward the ideals he believes in.
In March 2019, Axios released a study showing the word “socialism” has less stigma among Millennials and Generation Z than it does among older generations. That seemed to be a significant concern among those I spoke with.
When I asked the pair what they thought of the legislative session, each was unimpressed.
Whether it was (what they considered) the lackluster property tax reform or failure of conservative bills during the 86th Legislature due to “appointing Democrats as chairs of committees” (one such bill was the Heartbeat Bill), the recent session was less than satisfying in their minds.
During the panel, Velleco took aim at local politicians’ newfound affinity for red flag laws, stating, “It’s one thing to have Beto O’Rourke talking about gun control. It’s a whole other thing entirely to have a Republican Lt. Governor taking on the gun lobby as a campaign.”
This received massive applause from the crowd.
As more attendees arrived, our table began to fill up. When I inquired more specifically about the coming election and the not-so-good contemporary polling, a man — with almost James Carville-esque “it’s the economy, stupid” fervor — pointed to the for-the-most-part thriving economy as Trump’s biggest asset.
When I asked what they thought about the trade war with China — and how that seems to be something that could hinder the economy between now and the election — the group at my table was not concerned.
“Finally someone is standing up to China and their malpractice,” one person proffered.
While the president received high marks among those I spoke with on everything from his Supreme Court picks to his move on NATO and also immigration, the topic of Rand Paul’s fury did not come up as either a boon or a knock against the president — that of continued increases in the federal government’s spending, excesses that have continued under President Trump.
Shortly after the raffling of a new Ruger Creedmoor rifle made its way around the room, the panel began.
Each panelist weighed in on two main topics: guns (mainly red flag laws) and the border crisis.
About the former, Velleco stressed, “Just because there’s a problem (referring to the recent mass murders in Texas and throughout the country) does not mean the government is the solution.”
Rep. Roy — mentioning Attorney General Bill Barr’s recent push for red flag laws — stated plainly, “Some in the [Trump] administration are trying to push the president towards certain gun control measures.”
Beto, being an apocryphal name among the conservative base, had his “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s” addressed head-on.
“They want a gun registry. That’s their goal,” Roy stated about the progressive Democrats. To resounding applause, he added, “The last stand for liberty is an armed citizenry.”
On immigration, Homan, the former acting director of ICE, applauded President Trump for his actions so far on stemming the flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border.
“The president successfully got Mexico to act on solidifying their side, but they won’t do that forever,” Homan emphasized.
Roy added, “We’ve got to do what it takes to preserve our state and preserve our sovereignty.”
Right now, both Homan and Roy stressed, border patrol and ICE are overrun. Because of the 900,000 illegal immigrants apprehended so far this year, Roy said agents are “on diaper patrol instead of border patrol.”
Homan’s ultimate appeal to the crowd was “If the Democrats win the Senate and if the Democrats keep the House, we are going to lose this border.”
For a group so dead set on reelecting the President, this clearly resonated with them.
The Fredericksburg Tea Party’s philosophy, as President Matt Long stated in praising the Good Samaritan Center, is “We would like to wake up one morning and there not be a food stamp program because we are taking care of our neighbors.”
Roy — who has spent a good part of his time in office voicing his belief in the need for an improved sense of community — added, “This country was built on members of the community taking care of each other, not on the back of government in Washington, D.C.”
To this, Roy received thundering applause from the crowd.
The freshman firebrand faces a tough race against progressive Democrat Wendy Davis in 2020. However, in the Fredericksburg Tea Party, Roy has a motivated and enthusiastic group ready to go to bat for him.
It’s fitting that a region rich with over 50 wineries also continues to cultivate and sustain a political grassroots movement.
Rand Paul may have proclaimed the Tea Party dead, but the members and leaders of the Fredericksburg chapter clearly haven’t received the memo.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.