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The GOP and the Tea Party   December 11th, 2009
United in victory or divided in defeat       

 
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2010 is nearly upon us and, if things go as they're expected to, the upcoming November election could be nothing short of epic. With the Democrats apparently intent on pushing their policies despite clear public opposition, this could wind up being the perfect storm.

But for this to transpire, we must all stay true to our principles and be realistic about the best way to advance them. This applies to both the Republican Party and the grass roots via the Tea Party movement, 912 groups, etc. If we don't, we risk throwing away this historic opportunity.

I've seen what appear to me to be disturbing indications that some people aren't doing that.


Republican Party Guilty

As I wrote last week, the Republican Party definitely seems to be at risk of completely mishandling the potential "wave" that is underway.

Conservatives are clearly mad at Obama and the Democrats, but many are also upset with the Republican Party. Heck, many Republicans are upset with the Republican Party. But the GOP has everything to gain in 2010 if it plays its cards right.

Those cards aren't played right when the GOP attempts to co-opt the Tea Party movement or presumes to speak for it. Neither is it a good move to take Tea Party activists for granted, assuming that they'll go along with anything the party has to offer because, in the end, "we're not as bad as the other guys." This isn't a year for mediocrity. And it's insulting to assume that the activists will support the GOP simply out of anger at the Democrats.

This is especially true when the GOP may be snubbing the grass roots activists when it comes to choosing our candidates. While the grass roots may very well be willing to do the hard work in 2010 even if their preferred candidate loses in a fair caucus/primary, it's hard to believe they're going to work really hard if their candidates are completely removed from the race before the grass roots even has a chance to cast their vote at caucus. This is a slap in the face to grass roots activists precisely when they're fired up to participate in the Republican caucus... and if they can't even have a voice in choosing our candidates, they may be motivated to work outside the party, with terrible results (see below).

If GOP candidates are going to be selected by the candidates themselves, or by party leaders, let's just get rid of the formalities of the caucus and primaries. People aren't stupid, and going through the motions of participating in caucus and the primary with one viable candidate isn't going to fool anyone into believing they have a voice.

Tea Party Guilty

Some Tea Party folks aren't without guilt, either.

Other groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Patriots, are also vying for the helm of the movement, and it's creating what some are calling "competitive chaos."

Some Tea Partiers have voiced anger and concern over whether the powerful groups are "astroturfing'' what is supposed to be a grass-roots coalition -- the idea that the movement is being organized by old-fashioned GOP bigwigs to promote their agenda.

Donna Klink, of the Golden Triangle Tea Party-Texas, said in a post on the Tea Party Patriots Web site that the chaos needs to be addressed.

"We must craft a simple coalition message that we can all agree on. ... We should all remember the simple principles of 'Strength in Numbers' and 'United We Stand, Divided We Fall,' " she wrote...

If the Tea Party movement wants to develop into a political party or force, Gonzalez added, it should take the lessons of the populists and other third-party movements to heart.

"I think if a third party wants to take off, there has to be a face with it. And Ross Perot was a good example of that in 1992 and 1996. It's become more difficult [with this movement]."


Just as some in the GOP may be wanting to co-opt a grass roots movement, it seems some in the grass roots movement are co-opting it themselves by jockying for leadership of that movement. The latter, to me, is just as disgusting as the former.

The whole idea that a "grass roots" movement has to "craft a simple coalition message that we can all agree on" is nonsense. This is a diverse group of people that have been motivated into action in the wake of the 2008 election and the policies that are being pushed on America under the current administration. One only has to look at the signs in the Tea Party crowds to understand that while this is a group of people joined in frustration, its participants have many different priorities.

Just as the GOP may be misreading the nature of these movements, I think those that are striving for leadership of the movement are also misreading it. This isn't a movement that needs to be led, or even can be led.

To me, being part of the "Tea Party movement" is more of an attitude of resistance to what's going on, it's an attitude of conservative patriotism. To that extent, I'm part of the movement. I was at its birth when I attended the tax day tea party in Denver, and I continue to consider myself a member of the grass roots and "Tea Party" movement. But the moment someone presumes to call themselves the leader of the movement, I'll pretty much count myself out.

Not every movement needs to be formalized. Some movements just "are."

In fact, I think trying to formalize the Tea Party movement will destroy it. There will be divisions on matters of policy, wasted effort on trying to determine its leadership, there will be differences on whether a third party should be formed or whether the group should work within the existing party structures. And all the while every-day Americans will get bored and their excitement will evaporate.

If this happens, the Tea Party movement will fade away just like Ross Perot's United We Stand faded into irrelevance after handing the presidency to Bill Clinton.

What the GOP and Tea Party Needs

In my opinion both the GOP and the grass roots Tea Party movement need the same thing, and need each other.

We need people that are humble enough to do what's right to advance our principles for the benefit of the country rather than do what satisfies the personal ambition of the individual. We need people that use their influence to advance our common principles rather than simply seeking to advance their influence.

And we need people that can focus. On reality.

The simple reality is that everyone in the Republican Party should be part of the Tea Party movement, and vice versa. With few exceptions, our goals are--or should be--the same.

The fact that Tea Party movement bills itself as non-partisan is a testament to the failure of the GOP: As much as the movement detests liberal policies and as much as the movement's goals mirror those of the Republican party, they don't want to be associated with the Republican party. That must be a wake-up call to the Republican Party.

Likewise, inasmuch as the Tea Party movement has the potential to turn into a "third party" movement, the Tea Party movement must wake up to the reality that a "conservative" third party will be disaster for this country. All claims to being non-partisan aside, most Tea Party members are conservative and I'd be willing to bet the vast majority generally vote for Republicans. If the Tea Party strives to create its own third party, or if people waste effort jockying for leadership of the movement, the energy will be lost and it will help fracture both the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party whose membership overlaps that of the Tea Party. And we'll continue to hand electoral victories to the Democrats.

It is not acceptable for people to say, "I'm willing to have conservatives lose a few elections in our effort to form a third party." No! The only thing that is slowing down the steamroller of liberalism right now is the fear Democrat politicians have of a difficult election in 2010; and even that seems to be of only marginal concern to them. A Republican Party and a Conservative/Tea Party will split the conservative vote and will guarantee Democrat power for decades, or longer. And Democrats, without fear of electoral loss, will do incredible damage to the country.

Leaders of the diverse Tea Parties around the country should strongly encourage their members to get involved in their local Republican party. In many cases the local party will already be conservative and the Tea Partiers will help make the party even stronger. In other cases the local Republican party might not be as conservative as it should be and the grass roots members of the Tea Party should descend upon the party and, where necessary, take it over.

If Tea Partiers are numerous enough to form a legitimate third party, they're more than numerous enough to take over their local county Republican parties and start reclaiming the party from the bottom up. No, there might not be immediate gratification in 2010--existing party structures might succeed at preventing conservative candidates from advancing in this cycle. But conservatives need to be in it for the long haul. If conservatives take over the Republican party in 2010, there will be changes in time for 2012 and beyond.

It is far easier for the grass roots to reclaim the Republican Party for conservatism than to create a new party that will only succeed at splitting the conservative vote. If the Republican Party has strayed, it's because the grass roots lost interest in participating. If the grass roots is now interested in participating, its energies should be focused on retaking the Republican Party.

The Republican Party is defined by those that show up. So conservatives need to show up.

Tea Partiers: How many Tea Party meetings, 912 groups, and rallies have you attended in the last year? Next question: How many meetings of your county Republican party have you attended? Because attending those meetings is what you're going to have to do to if you really want to see things change. Attend a GOP meeting. Then attend the next one with some friends. And keep on doing it, don't stop. If you see something that makes you want to give up, redouble your efforts and renew your commitment to never stop.

Tea Party and conservative groups are absolutely right that we need conservative candidates. But the fight for conservative candidates must happen within the Republican party or we'll guarantee that liberals run our country for years to come.

That's the reality.

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