Nationally, GOP not necessarily in step with tea party movement
Published: Friday, April 16, 2010
Karen Rendine, of Waterford, with her flag during a tax-day protest hosted by PontiacTeaParty.com, at the corner of Telegraph and Walton Blvd.
By Glenn Gilbert
A group of people during a tax-day protest hosted by PontiacTeaParty.com, at the corner of Telegraph and Walton Blvd.
Oakland County Republicans appear to be in sync with the major goals of the tea party movement and seem ready to benefit from it in the Nov. 2 general election.
In fact, Glenn Clark is chairman of both the 9th Congressional District Republicans and the Oakland County Tea Party.
“Most are already Republicans,” state Rep. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, said of tea party followers. “There are a lot of independents too.”
It is uncertain whether the GOP and tea party are in such harmony nationally, however. In February, many in the tea party movement were upset with the selection of 2008 Republican vice-presidential standard bearer Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker for their gathering. Some even claimed she hijacked the movement with a single speech.
Despite its potential value, the movement worries GOP candidates, particularly out-of-touch incumbents, Matt Schlapp, a White House political director in President George W. Bush’s first term, told the Associated Press.
“Republicans who assume this is a Republican effort or something playing right into the Republican playbook are making a big mistake,” Schlapp said. “For many Republicans and Republican strategists, this is too organic and uncontrolled, and that’s a little scary for them.”
The tea party gained political credibility after Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts’ special Senate election. But activists were not key organizers in his race. The question is whether tea party-affiliated voters would have backed Brown anyway, given that many are conservatives, according to AP.
Last week, observers said Brown showed discomfort with the fringes of the movement in skipping the tea party’s national convention. Brown claimed his business in Congress prevented his attendance.
“His ‘business in Congress’ is getting re-elected in 2012, and to do that, he needs to present a moderate image. Going to a tea party rally is about the last thing he needs,” Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Brown’s alma mater, Tufts University, told AP.
“Brown doesn’t want to turn his back on his potential supporters, but he doesn’t want any photographs in the midst of an overly enthusiastic or bombastic event,” the professor added.
“America’s tea party is a hodgepodge of barely affiliated groups, a home to the politically homeless, a fast-growing swath of citizens who are frustrated with Washington, their own state capitals and both major political parties,” wrote AP analyst Ron Fournier. “Most describe themselves as conservatives or libertarians. They rarely identify themselves as Democrats.”
The tea party movement burst onto the national scene a year ago amid outrage among its adherents about bailouts of big businesses, what was considered excessive government spending and the supposed threatened national takeover of health care. A hallmark of the movement has been its spontaneity and loose organization. Also, it has not to date fielded candidates for office.
In a recent commentary for The Washington Post, former Vice President Dan Quayle said, “Some Republican leaders still aren’t sure what to make of it, as tea partiers have risen on their own and stirred up trouble in GOP primaries.” He also warned against it repeating the errors of Ross Perot’s Reform Party of the 1990s, which many feel cost George H.W. Bush the presidency in the 1992 election.
Quayle said, “The emergence of official tea party candidates would be very welcome news in the Obama White House.”
However, Tim Cox, founder of the Get Out of Our House organization, which seeks to replace all 435 member of the U.S. House, said Quayle and other GOP leaders are missing the point.
“Americans are fed up with both political parties,” said Cox, a self-proclaimed tea party sympathizer. “Flipping back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats is getting us nowhere. The political process itself forces our congressmen to represent special interest groups and their political parties, not their constituents.”
That is not the unfocused approach being taken in Michigan or Oakland County, however.
The Michigan Tea Party targeted U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, an upper Michigan Democrat, for defeat due to his role in helping pass the health care legislation and Stupak has decided to give up his seat.
In Oakland County, Clark says U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is the top target for defeat for tea partiers.
Will the tea party have any influence on state legislative races?
Republican House incumbents like Knollenberg, Gail Haines of Lake Angelus and Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills are all comfortable with the movement and have appeared at several of its events.
“I see no danger,” Knollenberg said. “It is a group you have to listen too.”
“I don’t expect anything but support from them,” Haines said. “Let’s not be afraid of them.”
While Haines and Knollenberg don’t see direct involvement by tea partiers in state races yet, “I think there will be a trickle-down effect,” Haines said.
Knollenberg said that while the tea party’s main interest has been in federal issues, its adherents did get involved in helping defeat local tax issues in Berkley and Troy. They wouldn’t hesitate to get involved into a state tax debate either, he said.
Stan Kasiewicz, a 69-year-old semi-retired Bloomfield Hills businessman, says he thinks the anti-tax message is getting through.
“If you look at some of the actions of the Michigan Legislature, they have finally been having a more fiscally responsible position,” Kasiewicz told AP.
Clark said one state House race in which there may be tea party involvement is the 39th District encompassing Commerce and West Bloomfield townships, where Democrat Lisa Brown won by a narrow margin in 2008. Clark calls Brown one of the most liberal members of the House.
Karl Sipfle, a longtime Republican challenging Brown, says he and the Tea Party “see things the same way.” He and his wife have been supportive, he said.
Sipfle called the tea party a significant movement, likening it to civil rights and feminist causes of the 20th century.
One thing is certain: The tea party makes election-watching all the more interesting this year.
Glenn Gilbert is the executive editor of The Oakland Press. Contact him at email@example.com or 248-745-4587. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/glenngilbert2.