Inside the Tea Party Movement
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Tea Partiers and 2012

By Jessica Chasmar (7/12/11)

“On behalf of my children and grandchildren, I will vote for whoever is running against the president.”

Jerry Merckel, a member of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., as well as many other Tea Party supporters, hold this view that future generations are in danger of facing a socialist America. They see an exorbitant rise in the federal debt, expanding entitlement programs, under-regulated illegal immigration and government encroachment on individual liberty as a less-than-ideal environment for their families to endure.

We can speculate that Tea Partiers will vote for virtually any Republican presidential candidate, assuming that the motive of the movement is to deny President Barack Obama a second term. Tea Party supporters who are informed on the election process and two-party politics can understand that to vote for a third-party candidate or even a libertarian running as a Republican, like Ron Paul, would be a waste of a vote in the primaries. A libertarian winning the Republican nomination is very unlikely, but if it happened, it would be a guaranteed second-term for Obama. My interaction with Tea Partiers has led me to believe that the majority will not vote for a Ron Paul candidate because of this reality. This is why there was so much worry from the right over Donald Trump’s speculation about running as an Independent. Splitting the vote would be incredibly damaging for both the Tea Party and the GOP.

Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer told Uma Pemmaraju on Fox News’ America’s News HQ this June, “We want to defeat Barack Obama. We will not support a third-party candidate.”

A Rasmussen poll conducted this June on a national random sample of 1,000 likely voters found that in a three-way congressional contest with a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat picks up 40 percent of the vote. The Republican earns 21 percent, the Tea Party candidate earns 18 percent and 21 percent remain undecided.

But Tea Partier Michael Bobbitt, of Gainesville, Fla., said a Tea Party member won’t run as a Tea Party candidate.

“If they run a candidate as a third-party,” he said, “it could have a crushing effect on the likelihood of electing a more conservative president.” The Tea Party will rather have a positive impact on the conservative vote in the 2012 election.

The existence of the Tea Party requires Republican candidates to be more conservative in order to get their votes, especially when in November, more conservative individuals mobilized for the primaries, cutting out the moderate candidates like Mike Castle and Lisa Murkowski. If this dynamic remains the case for the 2012 election, it is likely that a very conservative candidate will be on the Republican ticket. A 2010 Gallup poll conducted on more than 8,000 U.S. adults found that conservatives outnumber moderates and liberals in the American electorate. Whether a very conservative, particularly polarizing candidate can beat Obama, however, remains to be seen.

“In our local elections,” Merckel said, “I see most [GOP] candidates for office seek the support of the First Coast Tea Party. The GOP will work to entice the Tea Party into their fold. Likewise, the Tea Party will work to change the direction of the GOP to a more conservative path.”

So who is the frontrunner for the Tea Party vote?

“Looking at the current set of candidates, I would nominate Mitt Romney for president,” said Merckel. “He has the executive experience and has demonstrated his capability on difficult financial situations. However, he has the Health Plan issue and has flipped on a number of social issues.”

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has faced tough scrutiny from the right regarding his healthcare plan dubbed “Romneycare,” that was more or less used as a blueprint for the widely opposed “Obamacare.” He is also accused of flip-flopping on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Bobbitt doesn’t believe a winning candidate has yet emerged from the right.

“Mitt Romney is the presumptive front-runner, but the more the public is exposed to his record, the more they will see little differentiation between his positions and those of Obama,” he said. “I would vote for [GOP presidential candidate] Herman Cain. I don’t see any other candidates that seem committed to reducing the size and scope of government in any serious way. With Mr. Cain, at least the Fair Tax has a chance for more exposure.”

FoxNews contributor and comedian Steven Crowder said that if he had to vote for president today, he would vote for virtually any GOP candidate on the ticket.

“I’m not thrilled to say it, but Romney is likely,” he said. “Politically speaking, he has an earlier head-start. Romney just seems like too much of a politician to me. I can vote for him with a clear conscience, but not a happy one.”

We understand Tea Partiers want less government intrusion and to cut spending, but what should the federal government cut? What should it keep?

Bobbitt said the government should keep the programs that help the legitimately least fortunate among American citizens — “those who cannot fend for themselves, not those who simply choose not to.”

He also believes the government should keep programs that are “reinvestment vehicles for economic growth, such as Pell grants to colleges, Small Business Administration loans and FHA and VA loans for qualified homebuyers.”

Crowder believes the primary responsibility of the federal government should be defense and very little else.

“People act as though it’s a hard question, but when you understand the legitimate, original goal of government, it’s really not,” he said. “My analogy is that of a hockey referee. The role of the government is to keep the players (in this case its citizens) safe and make sure that people are playing by the rules.”

Tea and the GOP

By Jessica Chasmar (6/21/11)

As we saw in the November election, the Tea Party has been particularly powerful in its attacks on perceived “RINOs” (Republicans in name only), such as moderate Republicans Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Delaware’s Mike Castle. These Tea Party victories gained national attention and speculation from people on all sides.

Luckily for Republicans, the Tea Party Movement refused to create a third party during the midterm elections that could have split the conservative vote and created a permanent left-wing majority in Congress.

But what we’re seeing now in the GOP is a war between the moderate and conservative Republicans: There are the Bush Republicans of the late 2000s, who became disillusioned by the rise of domestic spending. There are the fiscally conservative Republicans of the Tea Party, who see the rise in spending and lack of corporate accountability as contributing to the disintegration of the economy. And there are the libertarians, many of them disavowing Republicans, who broke off from the GOP because of its stance toward social policy issues, such as abortion rights and gay marriage.

According to Gainesville Tea Party President Laurie Newsom, the failure of the Republican Party to protect the three values that the Tea Party stands for — “limited government, fiscal responsibility and a free market” — is what got her involved in the movement.

The House Tea Party Caucus was launched in July 2011 by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said in a statement to POLITICO that Americans have “had enough of the spending, bureaucracy and the government-knows-best mentality running rampant today throughout the halls of Congress.” In an interview with The Daily Caller, Bachmann said the idea for the caucus originated when Republican Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul said he would form a Tea Party Caucus in the Senate if he won that November.

The caucus currently consists of 52 Republican members, including Fla. Rep. Cliff Stearns, and it held its first event late last year.

According to Kenneth Vogel, reporting for POLITICO, the Congressional Tea Party Caucus is part of the solution for Republicans trying to channel grass-roots conservatism. However, instead of embracing the caucus, many Tea Partiers see it as yet another effort by the GOP to hijack their movement.

The inaugural meeting commenced Jan. 27, 2010, without three of the senators who won elections under the Tea Party name. Sens. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) may have rationalized that they would stand a better chance of advancing their ideas from within the Senate establishment, but Rubio told The Washington Post the reason he was not joining was because he didn’t want politicians in Congress “co-opting the mantle” of the grass-roots movement.

On Feb. 4, 2010, Rubio made an appearance on the “Trey Radel Show” and said, “My fear has always been that if you start creating these little clubs or organizations in Washington run by politicians, the movement starts to lose its energy.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) warned that the caucus may be seen as trying to “co-opt” the movement and questioned the motivations of its members.

"I’m 100 percent pro-Tea Party, but this is not the right thing to do," Chaffetz, who declined to join the caucus, told POLITICO last August. “Structure and formality are the exact opposite of what the Tea Party is, and if there is an attempt to put structure and formality around it, or to co-opt it by Washington, D.C., it’s going to take away from the free-flowing nature of the true Tea Party Movement. If any one person tries to become the head of it, it will lose its way.”

The new caucus has allowed some Democrats to jump on the opportunity to link Republicans in Congress with the Tea Party, especially during the midterm election period.

"The Republican Party agenda has become the Tea Party agenda, and vice versa," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said at a news conference late last July. Fla. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, now chairwoman of the DNC, later echoed those sentiments on MSNBC’s “The Place for Politics.”

The truth is, the caucus could give legislators a chance to claim they’re part of the Tea Party Movement without holding to its ideals, trying to appear more conservative than they really are. The country has been leaning more right in the past year or so and moderate Republicans have been forced to adapt to that trend.

A Rasmussen poll conducted last month on 1,000 likely voters found that voters see the “Tea Party” a bit less negatively as a political label these days, while the terms “liberal” and “progressive” have lost ground even among Democrats. “Conservative” remains the most favored description, with 42 percent of likely voters saying they view it as a “positive if a candidate is described as politically conservative.”

Republican legislators could be skeptical about aligning with the Tea Party Caucus for three reasons: 1) They genuinely care about the organics of the Tea Party Movement and want to protect its grass-roots feel, 2) They feel they would be more useful in the already established GOP, or 3) They fear aligning themselves with the perceived “extreme” right.