Monday, January 25, 2010

Tea Parties Resist National Unity

An interesting piece at the Los Angeles Times, "Still a Disorganized 'Tea Party'":

When Matt Clemente went to a December meeting of "tea party" activists in Worcester, Mass., he was shocked to find the hall packed.

"They were all talking about Scott Brown," he said.

That was when Clemente, a student at College of the Holy Cross, realized Brown wasn't just another Republican running a long-shot campaign for the seat held by liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy since 1962. He actually had a chance to win, and the conservative activists who had been organizing around the country against the healthcare overhaul, bank bailouts and increased government regulation could put him over the top if they could get organized in time.

Clemente is also a state coordinator for the Washington-based advocacy group FreedomWorks. After the Worcester meeting, he called the group and reported what he had seen.

The Senate race became a big moment for the sometimes fractured and ragtag group of right-wing activists.

"The movement rallied around the idea of defying the establishment," said Eric Odom, founder of another tea party network, American Liberty Alliance, which ushered volunteers to Massachusetts in the final days of Brown's winning campaign. "This had far less to do with Scott Brown and far more to do with proving we could coordinate and act in a mass way, showing we could move political mountains. We don't view this as support of a candidate; we view it as opposition to a candidate."

But as much as the various groups contributed -- with e-mails, volunteers, money, TV ads -- the victory still had the feel of a crowd running to the sound of the guns.

The movement is far from a well-disciplined army. Its pivot from protesting to politics has been fraught with internal disputes, turf wars and lawsuits. It has continued to struggle with its relationship to the Republican Party, which would very much like to harness the movement's energy without being subsumed by it.

Recent weeks have seen activists tangled in infighting over an attempt to organize a national convention. In Florida, tea party leaders have filed a lawsuit accusing a lawyer of hijacking their movement. Separately, two high-profile national groups are at odds amid accusations of coziness with the Republican establishment.

Underlying each dispute is a debate about how a movement born of an anti-incumbent fervor and homemade revolution ethos can cooperate with the political party it sees as tied to Wall Street.

"People certainly feel betrayed and ripped off by the Republican Party. But I think people are getting out of revenge mode," Odom said. "The primary goal is to defeat people who are not looking out for our interests, in defeating healthcare, cap-and-trade. That goal is to win politically."

There's evidence of success on that front beyond the Massachusetts vote. Tea party activists helped topple a Republican Party chairman in Florida who endorsed moderate GOP Gov. Charlie Crist in the Senate primary over the more conservative Marco Rubio. In California, Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore credits tea party activists with helping raise more than $1 million in small donations.

But DeVore said the financial effect of the tea party movement was hard to measure. "It's so decentralized I wouldn't even know how to do that," he said.
The rest is here. I have no problems with the discussion at the piece. In fact, the article provides a good overview of today's "crossroads" moment for the tea parties. And there's a good section on the movement's ties to the GOP. The piece suggests, correctly, I think, that many activists lean to the Republicans, although there's lots of anti-establishment sentiment on the ground. This passage is key for me:
Although many groups say they want to stay separate from the Republican establishment, only a few are pushing to create a third party. Many activists believe such a move would only split the conservative vote and put more Democrats in office.
I'd only remind folks of the old adage of Tip O'Neill, the former Democratic Speaker of the House: "all politics is local." 2010 is a massive year for conservatives and my sense is that movement infighting could well blow the moment. The article discusses the rifts surrounding the National Tea Party Convention that's scheduled for February. Once I heard that the event was going to be closed to the press -- and that includes bloggers like Glenn Reynolds -- I got a bad taste in my mouth (last I heard organizers have opened it up). Folks can turn to the Obama White House for secret meetings and lies about "transparency." I can't see how an event like that helps regular folks on the ground. It's not like a party convention, or anything, selecting candidates for office. So a national tea party event should be open and inclusive, reflecting the spirit of activists at the base.

Other than that, people need to just get out and get organized with their local tea parties. I was heartened yesterday to read
Mark Meckler's interview at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he noted that California tea party movement is "incredibly strong." And no doubt there are strong tea parties with local leadership around the country. I've repeatedly noted the phenomenal St. Louis tea party activists, espeically my friends Jim Hoft and Dana Loesch.

Basically, folks need to keep plugging, and to resist most of all the establishment of a third party -- which'll be a sure-fire way to kill the momentum that's been building, and that continues to build.


Skye said...

Absolutely concur about resisting a third party movement.

Grassroot organizations that I've founded or work close with have never expressed the need for a third party, only a desire to change the GOP from the ground up.

When I first started covering Tea Parties, almost a year ago, I was turned off with all the Campaign for Liberty and Ron Paul placards. There certainly are entrenched libertarian leaning third party supporting groups within the Teaparty movement, I choose not to support their efforts.

Dave said...

Warner Todd Huston had a pretty good take on the Tea Party situation very recently:

Can't find much to argue with there.