By Dawn Teo and Alex Brant-Zawadzki
The current consensus among pundits and politicos is that the Tea Party movement will fail in 2010 unless a national leader or organizational structure emerges. These predictions are based on fierce infighting and turf wars that have broken out recently among Tea Party leaders who are grappling for control within the fledgling movement. However, while fights between Tea Party leaders have been highly visible, their efforts to organize and prepare for 2010 have gone largely unnoticed.
So far, the Tea Party movement has been organized in opposition to issues: the stimulus package, cap and trade, and health care reform. However, electoral campaigns and issue-advocacy campaigns are two different animals. In issue-advocacy campaigns, like-minded groups work alongside each other, often at odds, advocating for variations on the same policy. In electoral campaigns, disparate groups (many of whom may be at odds on legislative and policy agendas) come together for a finite period of time for the singular purpose of electing the best available (not the ideal) candidate.
For some, including important figures in the conservative power structure, Tea Parties are a reaction against a floundering Republican Party. For others, Tea Parties are a Republican Renaissance. For the many libertarians in the Tea Party movement, they are a means to bucking the two-party system. Regardless, Tea Partiers of all stripes want the same thing in 2010: electoral victory.
In 2006 when Democrats swept elections and gained a majority in Congress, they did not have a clear leader or singular progressive agenda. Even during the primaries of 2008, politicos fretted and wrung their hands over divisions between Obama supporters and Hillary supporters. Similarly, although some Tea Partiers and their supporting groups are skirmishing over turf, they aren't necessarily working at cross purposes. Disparate Tea Party groups share libertarian ideals, and their work continues in parallel with one another.
Many local Tea Party groups are taking the initiative to prepare for 2010 elections on their own. In at least 21 states, local homegrown Tea Party groups are already recruiting precinct leaders and providing them with formal training. Many are also hosting candidate recruitment and training seminars. Some are hosting multi-day "boot camps" for activists and candidates. In Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Michigan, Arizona, and New Mexico, local Tea Party groups have set goals of gaining control of enough local offices to control city and county budgets.
Fox News commentators and conservative talk radio hosts are already actively promoting Tea Party preparations for 2010. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Malkin, and others have already begun encouraging their audiences to begin working toward a 2010 Republican victory. They are promoting the Tea Parties and encouraging the "not conservative enough" meme against Republican incumbents engendered by the Tea Party movement.
On Saturday, Glenn Beck announced an ambitious plan to turn his media megaphone into a community organizing pulpit. He already had a list of "912 candidates" and an "In or Out in 2010" challenge. Now Beck promises to step up efforts to elect like-minded politicians in 2010 by sponsoring voter registration drives and several day-long educational seminars culminating with the release of his upcoming book The Plan, which he will launch on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in August 2010 on the National Mall. The Plan will detail Beck's 100-year plan for America. Beck's educational "conventions" will include policy-specific education, community organizer training, and Beck's personal take on history and economics (god help us).
From day one, well-funded libertarian groups have been commandeering the Tea Party movement for electoral gain. American Majority, along with their sponsoring organization, Sam Adams Alliance, and several other like-minded groups, are sponsoring a National Tea Party Convention. Local Tea Party leaders attending the convention will participate in workshops, seminars, and organizing training. Sarah Palin will be the keynote speaker.
The American Future Fund, one of the well-funded organizations that organized Tea Parties over the August recess, is already hard at work trying to get robocall restrictions lifted to make it easier and cheaper to conduct robocalling operations during the 2010 elections.
Eric Odom, who is most often characterized as the Tea Party founder, is organizing week-long 2010 Tax Day Tea Parties across the country through his new organization American Liberty Alliance (and his former employer Sam Adams Alliance). In each city, the week will kick off with a full day of activist training on Saturday, April 10. Tax Day Tea Party protests will be held on Thursday, April 15, and the week will culminate with door-to-door voter canvassing on Saturday, April 17.
Odom announced recently that he is re-joining the GOP, but he qualified his support for the GOP by saying his new Liberty PAC (1) will not support any incumbent Republican, (2) will help libertarian candidates defeat Republican incumbents that are not conservative enough, and (3) will educate the electorate on why it makes sense for Republican candidates to be Scozzafava'd. Odom explained his plan, "Love or hate the Republican Party, it's our only vessel in the short term."
The same Tea Party leaders (like Odom) who made NY-23 a lively battle will likely make 2010 Republican primaries just as contentious. But after the primaries end, Tea Partiers will likely fall in line. After all, far-right activists who refuse to vote for moderate Republicans in primary elections are even less likely to vote for a Democrat in the general election.
This article is the third in our series, Reading Tea Leaves. Read them all:
Alex Brant-Zawadzki is a writer who has studied in both the United States and abroad. He is a former contributing Writer at OC Weekly. He edited his university newspaper, The Saint, and received the honor of Best Student Newspaper in Scotland. Alex has been passionate about journalism from a young age, and is extremely proud of a reporting credit he managed to get in Time Magazine. Alex currently resides in the heart of San Francisco.
Follow Dawn Teo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dawnteo