Last week I posted a rather scathing indictment of the Virginia TEA Party movement in general here and here concerning the aftermath of the Republican Primary in which a former TEA Party leader lost to the more mainstream Republican Candidate.
There is no doubt that the TEA Party movement has lost some steam (and relevance) since 2008 and 2009. The media has noticed. Even TEA Party members have noticed. A couple of years ago I would have considered this a disaster for the Right. But as things have evolved and progressed, the TEA Party has given way to several un-apologetically well financed activist groups such as Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and a number of other groups that have moved beyond the original TEA Party protests that helped spawn the activity we now see. All of which make the TEA Party less important in the grand scheme of things. There is still a role for the TEA Party, but the lack of mission focus has served to make them less relevant.
To understand the TEA Party movement one must understand the players. While the group initially had broader appeal, some of the activists who initially showed up have gone back to the comfort of their living rooms, content to let the rest of us do the work.
What remains are two separate political groups. The Libertarians and the Conservative Republicans. And for those not exactly familiar with the likes and dislikes of these groups, suffice it to say that the Libertarians tend to be more passionate about their cause, more vocal and more confrontational. Conservative Republicans tend to be just as dedicated and passionate, but not as confrontational and emotional as Libertarians.
And it is not really a secret that Libertarians are not really fond of Republicans. It is best, most Republicans find, to not mention you are a Republican in the midst of Libertarians unless you are looking for a confrontation.
And few Libertarians would deny a complete distrust and even hatred of Republicans. Mention Eric Cantor or George Allen in these circles at your own peril. Libertarians seem to have an equal dislike for Republicans and Liberals. Perhaps even more disdain for Republicans.
Conservative Republicans are not exactly enthusiastic about Libertarians either, but usually prefer snide comments about drugs and having no foreign policy. And many have less than kind remarks about Ron Paul and other Libertarian icons.
The TEA PArty managed to unite these two strange bedfellows under a shared fear and dislike of the Progressive policies of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. And as long as these three and their policies such as Cap and Trade, Card Check, EPA and especially ObamaCare, remained the target of the day, the TEA Party spoke as one.
But as the movement moved away from protests and into the political arena by advocating for candidates, the dynamics changed. The TEA Party groups in Virginia and Nationwide that remained firmly against the Progressives managed to hold the delicate balance between Libertarians and Conservative Republicans. The groups that became bogged down in primary battles did not maintain the alliance.
In the Virginia Senate Primary race, candidate Jamie Radtke started out espousing all of the TEA Party talking points that appeal to fiscal conservatives – Libertarians and Republicans alike. When George Allen entered the race and it became apparent that Allen had far too much Republican support to overcome, Radtke switched tactics and actually became the Libertarian Candidate in the Republican Primary masquerading as a TEA Party Republican. Saul Alinsky’s 12th Rule for Radicals is Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. The Radtke Campaign clearly abandoned all pretext of being Republican and, using the Alinsky rule exploited the Libertarian’s disdain for Republicans as her path to victory. And as soon as the TEA Party leaders in Virginia (some, not all) went into full Libertarian mode along with Radtke, most of the Conservative Republicans parted ways with the TEA Party and joined George Allen. In essence, the TEA Party groups that supported Radtke had simply become the Libertarian Party pretending to still be the TEA Party.
Radtke identified the fault line, exploited it and fractured the TEA Party in hopes of winning the Primary. But that made her the Libertarian candidate. The only true TEA Party candidate turned out to be Bishop Jackson who ran a great campaign on the issues and managed to keep his TEA Party supporters – Libertarian and Conservative Republicans – intact and focused on Tim Kaine. The TEA Party groups that supported Jackson, or remained fairly neutral did not experience the fracture.
Radtke pulled in 23% of the vote which is probably about the number of Libertarians who voted in the race. Now, by comparison, Ron Paul managed 41% of the vote against Mitt Romney in the Presidential Primary. Ron Paul ran as a Republican without the attacks on Romney that excites Libertarians. Paul managed to grab a lot of the Conservative Republican vote from Romney by avoiding the Libertarian appeasing attacks on the more moderate Republican. Obviously, not alienating half of the TEA Party base is important for any TEA Party candidate.
So the question is, can the newly Libertarian TEA Party groups regain the Conservative Republicans or have they narrowed their base to Libertarians only?
A lot depends on the leadership within the now Libertarian TEA Party groups. If they are going to continue to disparage Republicans, the answer is NO! And it is going to take a lot of leadership within the TEA Party to mend the fences with Conservative Republicans. The only way for that to happen is for the TEA Party to convince the Republicans that they are once again ready to focus on the Progressives – the only thing that unites the two.
The answer to that question will decide the fate and future of the Virginia TEA Party. Groups like AFP and FreedomWorks are doing amazing work and need volunteers to defeat Obama and the Progressives. Their focus is clearly on defeating Obama, which is what the TEA Party used to espouse. And the Republican Party itself is always an option. They are far more organized and motivated this year than ever before. So there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer and make a difference that do not include the TEA Party.
So the fact is, the TEA Party movement in Virginia has become fairly redundant. The role is being filled by other groups with far more money in hand. And if the TEA Party is going to remain a front for the Libertarian Party, then it will actually make itself irrelevant.
I hope the leadership is able to correct the course and understand the alliance that has been severed and plan a course to regain the trust of Conservative Republicans who are feeling betrayed by the Libertarian shift within the TEA Party. Otherwise, opportunities to make a difference with other groups abound and it would be a pleasant change of pace to not walk on eggshells fearing the mention of any Republican not meeting with Libertarian approval.
It will be interesting to watch.