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Even Palin polarizes as ‘tea party’ seeks leader
Activists look for key voice
Sarah Palin is not the “tea party” movement’s undisputed darling. But nobody else has been able to claim the undisputed leadership mantle for these latter-day insurrectionists, either.
Activists in the ardently bottom-up political movement say that the tea partiers say no prominent politican on the national stage completely fits their limited-government, walk-the-walk bill.
Chris Littleton, Cincinnati Tea Party president and Ohio Liberty Council co-founder, echoes the views of countless local tea party leaders when he concedes that what he really wants doesn’t exist: “[New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie’s guts, [Texas libertarian Republican Rep.] Ron Paul’s philosophy, Sarah Palin’s charisma and [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich’s brain. Is that person out there? Not really.”
After having had a profound effect in a wave of Republican primaries, the tea party is surging into next week’s general elections with a tremendous wave of energy, but divided over the national crop of GOP political leaders, uncertain how broadly their core principles extend and feuding with one another over who best represents the movement.
Tea party activists of all stripes privately agree that the only worthwhile long-term goal is the takeover of the GOP at the county and state levels, to be achieved by having principled conservatives win Republican primaries. But each group argues that it is doing just that - in its own way.
Tea partiers divide into two basic political camps. Some are “INOs” - independents in name only - who hardly ever vote Democratic because they think that’s tantamount to voting socialist. Many are rebellious Republicans whose agenda is to take back their party from what they see as the big spenders and war hawks who now own the GOP’s commanding heights.
Taken together, the hundreds of tea party chapters, parties, caucuses and councils are a mishmash of local groups affiliated informally with a state or national group.
Some tea party activists, among them Mr. Littleton and Cleveland Tea Party Patriots coordinator Ralph King, are dead-set against creating an adjunct of the “traditional values” cause, the social-conservative strain characterized by opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
“The tea party movement is about our three core values,” said Mr. King. “Politicians change over time; our values do not. When the Patriots took to the Boston Harbor, there were no politicians - just Patriots in disguise standing for fiscal responsibility, limited government and support of the free markets against the British Crown.”
“We only stay with our three core values and encourage those wanting to be involved with social issues to support or work with groups geared to social issues. The tea party is not a Bible class,” he added.
That stand has not alienated influential Christian conservatives, many of whom quietly support the efforts of Mr. Meckler and the Tea Party Patriots’ other co-founder, Jenny Beth Martin.
Tea party advocates are also profoundly divided on Mrs. Palin, the former Alaska governor who is often associated with them and was the keynote speaker at the first significant national tea party gathering in Nashville, Tenn., in February.
“I don’t know who is the ‘best hope’ for conservatives,” said Tea Party Patriots national coordinator and co-founder Mark Meckler. “That has yet to become clear, and while there is some support for Sarah Palin in this regard, it is certainly not universal, nor even strong.”
Mr. Littleton said he has “no idea what Palin is doing other than making a few bucks and becoming a great cheerleader.”
But Amy Kremer said Mr. Meckler and the others underestimate Mrs. Palin’s appeal.
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About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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