Should Tea Party Embrace or Distance Itself from National Groups?

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January 11, 2013; Source: Politico

The bellwether election result for the Tea Party movement this past November may well have been Allen West’s loss in Florida’s 18th (formerly 22nd) Congressional District. Unlike Tea Party favorites such as Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, whose campaigns simply imploded as the candidates opened their mouths, West had been elected two years earlier based on a no-holds-barred Tea Party message—the same message that obviously didn’t wear well for his electorate.

The same largely holds true for the Tea Party in general, highlighted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship-like battle between Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe at the Tea Party group FreedomWorks. A Rasmussen poll says that the proportion of Americans identifying as Tea Partiers is down from 24 percent in 2010 to only eight percent now. The oft-quoted conservative blogger Erick Erickson at RedState.com concludes that the Tea Party “is in disarray.”

Where does the Tea Party go from here to revive its identity, brand, and image? Writing for Politico, Kenneth Vogel and Katie Glueck suggest that although the Tea Party “may have been built by the grass roots, but in order to survive, it’s going to have to rely on the Beltway political machines and big money groups it once disparaged.” Vogel and Glueck suggest that Tea Party activists will have to turn to national groups such as the Club for Growth, American Majority, and Americans for Prosperity to launch their challenges of the Republican “establishment” and Democratic liberals. Might Tea Party groups and activists consider developing “strategic relationships” with FreedomWorks and other national groups because, as Georgia Tea Party board member Tom Maloy told Politico, “we all believe pretty much in the same thing?”

To us, it appears that the national nonprofit/think tank infrastructure has been active within the Tea Party movement from the very beginning, trying to ride the wave of the Tea Party energy convulsing Republican ranks in 2010 (for more on that, see parts one, two and three of our 2010 series on the Tea Party). There are already a number of national players—think tanks and others—vying for Tea Party allegiance and identity (but they might have to get a little smarter about picking candidates who don’t self-immolate on the stump).

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By our count, the Tea Party movement’s infrastructure of support includes American Majority (which trains activists and candidates), the Tea Party Patriots (which “provide[s] logistical, educational, networking and other support to thousands of community-based tea party groups around the country”), Americans for Prosperity (a Koch-affiliated group promoting conservative policies and taking sharp aim at health care reform), the Club for Growth (which finances primary challenges against Republicans deemed not conservative enough and which was vocally opposed to the fiscal cliff deal), and FreedomWorks, which still has plenty of money and resources despite the Armey/Kibbe brouhaha.

The issue for the Tea Party is not whether the movement will now turn to these big national players for financial, technical, and logistical support. Rather, to the extent that grassroots interests and elements initially drove the Tea Party, the question is how much of that momentum was lost by following the national groups’ lead? Does a movement like the Tea Party become compromised and co-opted by its association with entities that have other political allegiances, such as national Tea Party groups that are run by Republican political operatives or consultants? But without more heavy involvement by such groups, does the Tea Party run the risk of emulating Occupy Wall Street, whose lack of a strong national infrastructure led to an impression of anomie, fragmentation, and disorganization? What advice would you give the Tea Party?—Rick Cohen

  • Todd Cefaratti

    For some reason you left out TheTeaParty.net which is the LARGEST of any of these tea party organizations nationally. TheTeaParty.net has over 2.5 million followers and the #1 Facebook site in America with over 2 million people actively engaged on our posts weekly. You mentioned Tea Party Patriots which has less than 50,000 people engaged on Facebook weelly with only 890,000 followers. Freedoms has only 650,000 engaged followers and the other groups you mentioned even less. TheTeaParty.net also just launched the tea party’s first news network “The Tea Party News Network” that is taking the country by storm. TheTeaParty.net also has a partnership with Talk Radio Network and the Rusty Humphries Show and do daily broadcasts from our new Tea Party News Network radio studios in over 350 states nationally. It is the number 5 conservative talk radio show in the country. We also just hired 3 top conservatives including former 6 term Congressman JD Hayworth, Niger Innis and Bob Adams do be the tea party movement’s official lobby team in DC on Capitol Hill. And we have created the largest national free tea party website http://www.theteaparty.net where tea party activists anywhere can stay informed and use things like our tea party local finder, our petition Congress system where over 5 million petitions have already been sent to Congress and tons more. And this is all funded by small donations from every day Americans around $40 average per donation. How are you not aware of this? Those other organizations are dong their best but are not accomplishing near what theteaparty.net is.