This morning I read an outstanding article by Paul Jossey, entitled, “How We Killed the Tea Party”, published by Politico. This article generated a great deal of discussion across social media throughout today. Then this evening, piggybacking on the Politico piece, Brian Schoeneman penned an article entitled The Real Bad Guys in Politics. These articles describe the consultants and fundraisers who have made it their business to rip off the concerned American Citizen.
The fact is that conservatives and the TEA Party have been ripped off by some very clever folks who had no interest or intention of promoting conservative causes or candidates and who, in truth, had every reason to see our causes and candidates fail.
For years I have been mystified by the carelessness with which conservatives spent their political dollars. I have been a fan and supporter of our Tea Parties and the Tea Party movement from their beginning, but the strategy and purpose of these Tea Parties was never entirely clear to me.
Some Tea Parties seemed to believe that they really were a part of a large grassroots uprising and were, in their collective might, on the verge of changing American Politics. To me, this always seemed like overreach or naive optimism.
We’ve got out of control School Boards and Board of Supervisors, Town and City Councils, and we’re focused on changing Washington D.C.?
The illusion that we were so close to a historic victory was fed through clever email campaigns, telling citizens to act now to stop X, Y, or Z – and by act, they meant to donate money… to them… whoever the hell they were.
Many of us shared a fundamental misunderstanding or ignorance about how political change is achieved- and for this we were not to blame. Average citizens fed up with their government were fed up with what they saw, but they were too busy mastering their own business and paying their own bills to understand the business of their politicians.
So much money was wasted. So much energy was spent on nothing. Politicians were elected as Tea Party candidates and immediately embraced the culture their constituents sent them to Washington D.C. to change.
In truth, what was the national Tea Party’s biggest victory? What the national Tea Party movement really accomplished was empowering John Boehner and his leadership team in the House of Representatives in 2010 and Mitch McConnell and his leadership team in the Senate in 2014.
Yes, there are a handful of great representatives in Congress now, thanks to the Tea Party, but most of them are maligned and ignored by Party Leadership. We just don’t have the power to change the Republican Party from the top down.
If the Tea Party is to have a future, then it must learn from both its successes and its failures. Tea Parties are not good at national politics. They are small groups of men and women and they stand no chance at changing the culture in Washington D.C. on their own.
A Tea Party at its best is an organization that exists for the education of its members and in its activism within their district, their counties, and their towns.
A Tea Party at its best is looking to find, encourage, and financially support qualified conservative candidates for Congress, for School Board, for Town Council, for Board of Supervisors, and for Sheriff.
A Tea Party at its best has members who operate under a productive division of labor: some attending school board meetings and reporting back, while others attend board of supervisors meetings and report back, and while others attend the General Assembly and report back.
Under a strong Tea Party, members should be increasingly knowledgeable about their local, state, and national governments. They should be actively involved in their local Republican Party Committee. They should be forming respectful relationships with their local and state representatives, as well as their representative in Congress.
Under a strong Tea Party, members should be learning how government works and how bills become law. They will pay attention to legislation in the general assembly. Too often the Tea Party is reactive – we react to bills that have already been passed. They were passed because we weren’t paying attention to them when they were moving through committees and subcommittees.
Under a strong Tea Party, members will give their input on the budget proposed by their county governments. They will be informed before they tell their representatives what they think and how they wish to be represented.
Tea Parties at their best will have all their members attend conventions and understand how those conventions work. (For the love of God, please, understand how conventions work).
Tea Parties will have their strongest members running for delegate positions and running for positions within their local Republican Committees.
The Tea Parties that have followed this model are the Tea Parties which remain strong today and they are the Tea Parties of the future.
However, we may have to ask ourselves if the Tea Parties of the future will even be called Tea Parties?
Maybe we don’t need “Tea Parties”. Maybe what we really need are Conservative Caucuses that meet separately from the rest of their local Republican Committees.
Did you know that there are counties where the Tea Party has larger memberships than their local Republican Committees? Do you understand how bizarre and frustrating that is? If every member of these Tea Parties had joined their local committees, then they would be the Republican Party in their county or town. It is strange to me that people would attend Tea Party meetings, but not local GOP meetings.
Some Tea Parties are too large, with too many different points of view in one room to be effective. They end up spending their time fighting with one another instead of representing a unified voice within their local party or in front of their elected. Maybe there should be conservative caucuses and libertarian caucuses and populist caucuses, who meet to discuss local, state, and federal issues and who show up at their local committee meetings and before their elected representatives with a serious, unified agenda.
The important thing is to start local, to be informed, and to be involved in the Republican Party at every level. That’s the only way to be effective. We cannot tear down the Republican Party with one hand and rebuild it with the other. Being informed and building relationships is how the people who control the party today got control of the party in the first place; and I think that’s worth remembering.