The Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest groups in the grassroots conservative movement, hosted a fifth anniversary celebration Thursday in the nation's capital, marking five years of change in the country's political climate.
With a string of speakers, the event focused on the movement's milestones, such as the 2010 takeover of the House of Representatives and the re-energizing effect the tea party had on right-leaning political activists.
A push for broad appeal
Many speakers also hit back against the charge that the tea party has racist elements -- a charge that has been consistently and vehemently denied by activists in the movement.
Conservative firebrand Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky warned the crowd that the tea party movement needs to be more inclusive and steer away from incendiary rhetoric about President Barack Obama - a nod to recent comments by gun rights activist and rocker Ted Nugent who called Obama a "subhuman mongrel," sparking outrage and calls for Republicans to distance themselves from controversial figure.
"There are times, and I don't think it's our movement, but there are times when people are using language that shouldn't be used. I recently criticized someone for using some of that language and I'm not going to bring it up but I will say that we can disagree with the President without calling him names," Paul said. "There are people out in the public who are taking away from our message. Let's try not to be part of that."
"If we want a bigger crowd and we want to win politically, our message has to be a happy message, one of optimism, one of inclusiveness, one of growth," Paul added.
The tea party goals
Paul's speech focused largely on limiting the size of government and reining in federal spending. Paul said government spending is on autopilot, as evident by October's partial government shutdown, where only a fraction of government function was halted and spending continued automatically.
Sen. Ted Cruz, whose attempt to block parts of the President's sweeping healthcare law was the catalyst to the government shutdown, said millions of Americans, including Democrats, are fed up with Obamacare.
"We are making the case for the American people and let me tell you I'm absolutely convinced we are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare," Cruz said to applause.
Cruz, elected to the Senate in 2012 with broad tea party support, has drawn criticism from fellow Republicans for bucking leaders in his own party.
Cruz praised Paul's filibuster last year demanding more information from the Obama administration on the use of drones. The Texas senator also pointed to gun rights advocates' win over legislation pushing background checks on firearm sales, which failed to move forward in the Senate last April.
"That was ya'lls victory, it was the power of the grassroots," he said. "Liberty is never safer than when politicians are terrified."
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said the tea party is at a pivotal movement with an opportunity to push a more conservative agenda.
"As citizens, we have certain rights that are ours. Certain rights that we were born with as American citizens -- the right to live under a limited-purpose national government; one that recognizes your right to privacy; one that recognizes your right to have most of the governing done at the state and the local level; one that recognizes the right not to live under an emperor who thinks he has every power to legislate under the sun," Lee said.
Lee also suggested the tea party movement should capitalize on the changing political landscape within the GOP.
"The size of the hole in the Republican Party is, I believe, exactly the size and the shape of a conservative reform agenda."
The tea party's evolution
"What you did for America is stellar," Rep. Michele Bachmann told the audience. "It was life changing to the life blood of this nation, because you and the movement that we represent took the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi's hand...You did that."
Bachmann rose to fame during the birth of the tea party and launched a 2012 presidential bid with wide support from the movement, winning the closely-watched Iowa straw poll in August 2011.
After a disappointing sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses five months later, the Minnesota congresswoman dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination. And last year, she announced she would not be seeking re-election this November.
Most activists in the grassroots movement called for less federal taxes and spending; a curtailment of some federal powers in the areas they believe are the sovereign domain of state and local governments; and of course opposition to the large federal programs such as the bailouts and the stimulus, as well as Obamacare and the Wall Street and banking reforms, which were both passed in 2010.
The tea party movement instantly gave energy to the Republican Party, which lost the White House and lost more seats in both the House and the Senate in the 2008 elections. That energy was witnessed at large tea party rallies throughout 2009 and 2010, as well as the noisy opposition to Obamacare at congressional town halls during the August 2009 break.
The movement is credited with helping Republicans take sweeping victories in the 2010 midterm elections, when the GOP, thanks to a 63 seat pick up, regained control of the House, and narrowed the Democrats' majority in the Senate. And the movement is also credited with pushing the party, and the lawmakers it elected to Congress, further to the right.