The Tea Party: Still Coming into Its Own

While the usual wishful thinking about the Tea Party's demise is being bantered about in the left-wing blogosphere, one of our own -- California Republican political consultant Tony Quinn -- recently joined the chorus of prognosticators.  His premise is that because the Tea Party fielded "idiot" candidates like Angle and O'Donnell in 2010 and Akin and Mourdock in 2012, Republicans lost the Senate, and their strident calls for fiscal sanity, limited government, and lower taxes caused all manner of mayhem for Boehner in the House, ultimately empowering Obama and the Democrats. 

Support for Christine O'Donnell was misplaced, even though her opponent, Mike Castle, did not vote with Republicans 100% of the time.  His seat was a guaranteed win that we needed.  If Republicans and the grassroots had any kind of unified strategy or means of communication, the Delaware senate seat would have been a strategic gain even if it wasn't a principled one.

This battle between candidates whose conservative principles jive 100% with the Tea Party and those who have some differences but could win their liberal states is nothing new.  Some of us hold tight to our conservative principles but recognize the importance of strategic alliances to gain a seat in a liberal district -- there's no sense riding your principles over the cliff.  Others don't, and so we often find ourselves at odds in primaries.

Tea Party and Republican support for Todd Akin and Mourdock plunged after their absurd remarks (even though they remained on the ticket).  But Akin was no more a Tea Party candidate than his primary competitors.  He won because of a three-way conservative race that split the votes.  Once he won, Republicans and Tea Partiers rallied around him -- even Karl Rove's American Crossroads was going to back him against McClaskill's critical Senate seat -- until he imploded.  

It's true: we have our idiots.  So does every other organization.  Akin, O'Donnell, et al. were responsible for their failed campaigns, and, to the extent that the Tea Party supported them, they were bad choices. 

But Republican candidates have imploded before, losing critical seats at critical times, all on their own and without the Tea Party!  Remember Jack Ryan, Mark Foley, George Allen, and Larry Craig? 

And what about Tea Party successes that Mr. Quinn conveniently omits?  Take, for example, Scott Brown, Scott Walker, and sweeping the House in 2010 with notable Tea Party candidates like Allen West, Michele Bachmann, and Paul Ryan.  Of the 60 House seats that went Republican, 28 were endorsed by the fledgling Tea Party movement.  And while Mr. Quinn is correct that we lost 5 critical senate seats, the Tea Party did put Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in the Senate.

The Tea Party is a movement both within the Republican Party, calling for greater adherence to conservative principles, and outside the party.  It brings together people of all backgrounds and political affiliations who see the wisdom in conservative principles and (1) don't like the lack of adherence to such principles in Washington, D.C. and their state capitals and (2) were gravely disappointed by the actions taken by Obama and the 111th Congress in the first few months of 2009. 

It is not a movement of paid, highly trained, and experienced lobbyists; legislative aides; political consultants; and former politicos.  It is purely grassroots.  It grew out of the desires and needs of the people -- the ones the Founders put at the heart of our political system.  And while it is true that some of them might be idiots, the propensity for idiocy is not a monopoly enjoyed exclusively by the average guy on the street -- seasoned politicians, their advisers, and their consultants have been known to exhibit the same degree of idiocy.

Mr. Quinn claims that "the Tea Party has greatly empowered President Obama and come close to destroying an effective Republican opposition."  The Tea Party did not empower Obama.  It might have emboldened him --  by virtue of its existence -- to vilify and sic the media on us.  It is the left-wing's intentional mischaracterization of the Tea Party as rich, white, stupid, homophobic, racist radicals that empowered Obama and was extended to all Republican and conservative voters this past November.  Obama successfully painted Romney and his supporters as rich vultures who wanted to return to the segregation of the '60s and the oppression against women in the '50s.

Mr. Quinn references the Tea Party "buffoonery" of Ken Buck in Colorado, snarkily labels O'Donnell "the Tea Party princess of 2010," and reminds us that Sharron Angle was "foisted" by the Tea Party onto the Republican ticket.  Yet he never mentions successful Tea Party candidates like Allen West, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Scott Walker, Michele Bachmann, and Paul Ryan -- none of whom are idiots, buffoons, princesses, or unwittingly foisted on Republican voters.

The large brush with which Quinn paints the Tea Party is startling -- something I'd expect from the left.  And while he might raise a few good points that even a Tea Party idiot like me might agree with, he loses a great deal of credibility by failing to acknowledge Tea Party successes.  Rather than highlighting common ground and calling for unity in purpose, Quinn foists on his audience --  in true Alinsky fashion, no longer the sole purview of the left wing --  a handful of embarrassing failures as evidence of Tea Party irrelevance and good riddance.

He points out that "Voters are not idiots and they won't vote for an idiot; Akin and Mourdock lost in 2012 just like the other Tea Partiers in 2010."  But there have been non-idiot Republican Senate candidates who lost and were not Tea Party favorites, like Carly Fiorina  in 2010 (a large percentage of Tea Partiers voted for Chuck DeVore in the primary) and, ironically, Scott Brown in 2012, who didn't have anywhere near the Tea Party support he had in 2010.  And there have been fabulous non-idiot Republican favorites heavily supported by the Tea Party who still lost -- like Wendy Long in NY and Josh Mandel in Ohio.  So idiot Tea party candidates lose, as do fabulous non-idiot candidates, some of whom were Tea Party faves and others who were not. 

The tone of Quinn's article is dismissive of the Tea Party, condescending, and, in spots, downright nasty.  He claims that Tea Party members in the House made "fools of themselves by fighting to keep Barbra Streisand from paying more taxes" and that they put "fanaticism ahead of reality." 

Most grassroots activists do not have the skills to deal with the press, and this can lead to embarrassing statements from time to time.  But Quinn seems to have forgotten that these Tea Partiers he attacks are voters -- who he himself said are not idiots -- and they make up a considerable portion of the grassroots of the Republican Party. 

Is Quinn unaware that countless Republican Central Committee and Republican Women Federated members are Tea Partiers?  Does he not understand that the Tea Party gives voice to millions within the Republican Party?

Quinn maintains that the Tea Party is "rapidly declining as a political force" and self-immolating.  He concludes: "[F]rom the perspective of President Obama and the Democrats, the Tea Party has been a great run.  They [the Democrats] won't be happy to see it go." 

I imagine that if Quinn continues with this disdainful narrative and has any impact on Republicans in powerful positions; if House Republicans aren't able to fashion a game plan that works for us all and involves some compromise from both factions; and if grassroots conservatives who have Rs after their name or vote R continue to be spurned by their own kind in articles like this, then, if there should come a time when there is a mass exodus of grassroots activists (aka Tea Partiers) from the Republican Party, it will be Mr. Quinn and the Republican Party who "won't be happy to see it go."

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