By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
Charlie Cook and Amy Walter recently gave an election preview presentation at the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C. They took questions from the audience and a federal government employee asked, "Is Romney going to control the Tea party, or is the Tea Party going to control Romney?"
The employee was hoping that President Barack Obama's re-election campaign was going to make an issue of the Tea Parties. Since that did not work so well in 2010, it's unsurprising the Democratic Party is not taking her advice.
Approximately 750 people (according to the Racine Journal Times) were at a Tea Party rally in Racine last Saturday. Among the speakers were former Governor Tommy Thompson, State Representative Robin Vos and radio personality Vicky McKenna. Former WTMJ radio personality James T Harris flew back from Arizona for the event after he was assured by organizers the event was indoors.
Also in attendance before the rally was someone who decided to scatter nails in the parking lot. Whoever it was, they were not Tea Party fans. Two vehicles suffered tire damage according to the police. As we left the rally, a tow truck was in the parking lot ready to assist, as well as the Racine Police.
The obvious question is if the Tea Party movement is losing steam, as some have claimed, what would drive the anger toward it, either from the vandal with the nails or the government employee in Washington D.C.?
The strength of the Tea Parties is more than who attends what rally. Luke Hilgemann of Americans for Prosperity says they now have more members than AFSCME and WEAC combined. That's just one organization. It's a tremendous base of conservatives from across the state that did not exist just a couple of years ago.
Still, 750 conservatives meeting anywhere is nothing to sneeze at. Just a few years ago, the Republican Party would have loved a gathering of over 100 people anywhere in Wisconsin. Thanks to the Tea Party movement, now it's routine.
Speaker after speaker on Saturday reminded the audience of how far the Tea Party has come, and listed the Tea Party's successes. Harris even had a poster of the Wisconsin stars that have attracted the attention of the rest of the country, including Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Ron Johnson, Governor Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Johnson reminded them of the role the Tea Parties had in supporting him. Johnson said the Tea Party is the "silent majority" in this country. "And on November 6th, the silent majority is going to roar."
Lori VanNatta, a former legislative staffer and a conservative writer in Wisconsin, later disagreed with Johnson on Facebook, saying the Tea Party movement, "is a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP as is evidenced by today's line up. And, the TRUE Silent Majority is NOT any party."
While VanNatta echoes many people who have watched the Tea Party movement grow closer to the Republican Party, they're missing the larger point. Many in the Tea Party movement had never been active in politics before. But after the election of Obama and the passage of the stimulus bill, they felt compelled to get involved. The Tea Party movement gave them a way to participate without necessarily joining a Republican establishment that had lost its way after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Ironically, it was Priebus who gave the Tea Party its mission in 2010 when he was still chairman of the Republican Party in Wisconsin. He told Tea Party audiences that the new generation of Republican candidates like Ryan and Walker understood the frustration of the Tea Party movement. Now it is time for the Tea Party movement to hold the conservatives they elect accountable.
There may have been a parade of Republican candidates at the Tea Party rally on Saturday, but they were there to ask the rally attendees for their support. The Tea Party attendees were a reminder to the candidates that Tea Party support is only there as long as the candidates support conservative principles.
It's not a matter of who controls whom, but of a political movement - and a political relationship - reaching maturity.