Tea Party Infighting?
By Staff News & Analysis - August 28, 2010

Splitting the Conservative Vote in Michigan's First District … In the aftermath of the very close MI01 Republican primary, won by Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls by 15 votes, several things have transpired that has tested the friendships and trust of tea party members and patriots, and the movement itself. Glenn Wilson, a self-proclaimed independent, has entered the first district race and has co-opted former leadership of the tea party movement. In a Politico article Wilson is cited as being, "backed by several tea party groups." When in reality, he has hired the former leader of the Petoskey Tea Party and has the support of disgruntled libertarians. Rich Carlson is no longer the leader of any tea party group, and his friend, Randy Bishop, has completely alienated the tea party folks in Emmet County and many of the supporters he had in his bid to become State Senator to replace Jason Allen in Michigan's 37th. – Jennerationx

Dominant Social Theme: Fresh approaches will be the best.

Free-Market Analysis: This blog-article, while not "mainstream" of itself, touches on plenty of mainstream issues. It was also posted after being written on the "conservative" RedState website, and we found the discussion that took place there to be enlightening in terms of what is going on the Tea Party movement. The comments show quite clearly that Tea Party itself has significant rifts, as we wrote about months ago.

In fact, we would tend to believe those rifts are being exacerbated as mainstream pundits and politicians move decisively to try to capture its energy for themselves and their own viewpoints. Here's an additional dominant social theme: "The Tea Party is a movement of patriots and conservatives and the Republican Party provides a natural umbrella." In this article we want to examine some of those rifts and what they might portend.

The rift is emerging more powerfully now in our estimation. We recently commented on the seeming formal Tea Party takeover by former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey and his Freedomworks organization. With a pipeline into the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, Armey has a powerful platform to reflect his views and he has been using it. One of Murdoch's publishing companies is printing a new book for Armey entitled, "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto."

You can see our article on Dick Armey here: Dick Armey's Tea Party Coup.

In the recent Wall Street Journal article also entitled A Tea Party Manifesto, Armey provided a powerful (if revisionist) history of the Tea Party. He claims (somewhat dubiously from our point of view) that Rick Santelli, the on-air commodities editor for the CNBC Business News network was the Tea Party catalyst when in February 2009 he called for a new "tea party" during an on-air rant against government-aid for private mortgages. Armey has also released a Contract From America that purports to be a distilling of the essential elements of a new free-market Tea Party movement.

The article we excerpted at the beginning of this analysis, "Splitting the Conservative Vote in Michigan's First District," is a real-life example of how the tension between the Armey-oriented Tea Party and the grass-roots effort is playing out. The gist of the article is that an independent "libertarian"-oriented candidate is going to be running in the Michigan First District.

The complaint on the Republican side is that the entrance of the independent candidate may result in throwing the election to Democrats. But the larger issue is the obvious tension. Here's a RedState comment on the article that we found most interesting. The article, posted by "Scope," is part of a larger post and the acronym C4L stands for the libertarian-oriented Campaign for Liberty organized by libertarian-Republican candidate for US president Ron Paul (R-TX):

The C4L had their panties in a bunch when Rick Santelli called for Tea Parties, and, they started happening. C4L claimed they were the first to start with the Tea Parties, and had the first ones. It is their goal to take over the Republican party, and have been very actively recruiting members and candidates since Paul's election loss in 08. Their candidates must pass a purity test, and the main qualifier is that the person follow Paul's isolationist national security/foreign policy dictates. There is no question they are growing in numbers, and they are in it to win it, no matter how long it takes. With the current shaky political atmosphere, and many not fully trusting the Republicans to do the right thing, even if they do win majorities in either/both houses, C4L is moving in for the kill, so to speak. They are trying to fill what they perceive as a vaccum in trust for either major party. They think this is their time to make their move. I believe they have taken over many of the local Tea Party groups, and have destroyed the purpose of the original Tea Party's. As Jaded had said, the Tea Parties are becoming irrelevant in one election cycle. We can thank Ron Paul, and his merry band of idiots for that. Glenn Beck, with his Libertarian claims hasn't helped the Republicans, or the Tea Parties.

This RedState reply hits many aspects of what we've been pointing out here at the Bell (along with many others on the blogosphere). It focuses directly on the split between libertarian and conservative Tea Party members and uses fairly apocalyptic language to do so: "C4L is moving in for the kill." Even more interestingly, the commentator writes, "The Tea Parties are becoming irrelevant in one election cycle. We can thank Ron Paul, and his merry band of idiots for that."

If the Tea Party movement has become irrelevant it is because unlike previous third-party movements, the Tea Party is likely somewhat immune to Republican party co-option. In fact, in our conclusion to the recent article on Dick Armey, we wrote, "The 21st century is unlike the 20th and 'control' is an increasingly contentious issue. It is difficult to co-opt a movement that is essentially amorphous and driven by the accelerating failure of the system itself rather than by populism or personalities."

We think we see signs of this. We note with interest that the Maine Tea Party movement has fallen into disarray in the past month as many in the movement mounted a kind of coup against one of the original founders who was accused of holding rallies that, as one participant pointed out, "are nothing more than a GOP promotion with little or no understanding gained for participants as to what the Tea Party Movement is about."

While we cannot vouch for what is actually occurring (and it seems things may have been smoothed over for the moment), the incident would seem to show that co-option of the growing numbers of those with libertarian, "constitutionalist"-oriented sentiments is not an easy process. The frustrated RedState commentator, above, makes the same point: "[Libertarians] think this is their time to make their move. I believe they have taken over many of the local Tea Party groups …"

We personally have trouble figuring out why mainstream Republican-conservatives dislike their libertarian-Republican brethren. What is a libertarian but a person who, like founding father Thomas Jefferson, believes that smaller government is better, that most US government should take place at a state and local level and that "foreign entanglements" should be avoided? Of course, it is this last point that is especially contentious as the US has somewhere in the area of 1,000 overseas bases and a standing, volunteer army of hundreds of thousands.

We noted deficiencies in Dick Armey's Contract From America in our previous article. Finally, with the help of feedbackers we teased out four. The Contract made no mention of limiting or even doing away with the Federal Reserve. It said nothing about cutting back on American overseas ventures. It didn't mention the tragic and merciless "war on drugs" that has so empowered the US's increasingly quasi-police state, and finally it made no mention of public schools or the damage they are doing in terms of the increasingly statist curricula that is being taught.

We do believe this will be a different election cycle, or at least an era of different politics. Even if the libertarian and conservative elements of the Tea Party end up empowering some democratic candidates, this is probably not a long-term trend. In the long term, what is happening is that libertarian Republicans and libertarian (conservative) Democrats are beginning to find common ground. Those occupying common ground will wish to see the federal government trimmed back in terms of social activism, military power and economic interference.

After Thoughts

Eventually, as this party "coalesces," (and we think it will) it will stand in opposition to liberal democrats (who want the state deeply involved in the economy) and patriot-conservatives (who celebrate the Anglo-American military axis and intelligence-industrial-security complex). Thus, if we are correct, the libertarian, anti-Leviathan party could gradually emerge as perhaps the largest of all American parties, or at the least the most committed and determined. We think this fundamental realignment may be underway now despite the efforts of the mainstream Republican party to control it and co-opt it.

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