In the early days, Tea Party groups could bring out thousands of people to rallies. When members learned that rally size does not equal vote results ushering in greater government adherence to the Constitution, the rally numbers dried up.
Going underground didn’t end the Tea Party movement, as liberals wishfully predicted. Citizens with their own busy lives don’t attend homeowners meetings until raising dues is on the agenda. Likewise, voters don’t immerse themselves in politics until raising taxes, falling off the debt cliff and losing our freedom are imminent. Maybe it is too late to stop the debt train to disaster, but with the numbers of self-identified Tea Party activists growing, the country may just swing a J-curve yet. The Tea Party was a factor at the Republican National Convention, boasting a significant presence as delegates, alternate delegates and attendees.
This year, as the first Washington liaison for the Tea Party, I was asked repeatedly about the temperature of the party. Were the Tea Party delegates in Tampa? Would we work for Mitt Romney? What did we mean by a bottom-up organization? Surprisingly, the Romney campaign seems to believe that a handful of self-proclaimed leaders in attendance represents enough outreach. But there are thousands of chapter heads in America’s communities.
Four years ago, Mr. Romney ended his primary race with Sen. John McCain at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The sighs, sadness and tears of conservatives present were palpable. Mr. Romney is now the Republican nominee. No one is worried about the Tea Party for now, with Rep. Paul Ryan on the ticket. However, Rules Committee changes have been proposed, and jockeying is fierce to keep out Tea Party and Ron Paul delegates in four years.
Top-tier board meetings on platform, credentials and rules, among other issues, were decided in anticipation of the tens of thousands of delegates, alternates and attendees who descended on Tampa. The national convention’s ruling body is made up of the state party chairmen and co-chairmen (male and female) from each state and territory. Four years ago, there was an unusual, 40 percent turnover in this body, and this year another 30 percent turnover resulted in a lowering of the overall age by several decades.
This hasn’t changed the fact that many states’ central committees and the national committee members, raised in pre-Internet days, don’t want to give up their power to upstart organizations like the Tea Party. The countervailing argument is that Tea Party and Ron Paul libertarians are bringing both energy and youth to a perceived staid party and that without them, the energy of this and future elections will fold. The rank and file is talking, but the leadership seems to be holding firm so far. The process is fascinating amid this high-stakes contest between two candidates with radically different visions for America.
Polling of Tea Party membership shows them to be as black, brown, yellow and white as the general voting population, as young and as old as other voter blocs, and evenly spread by population, sex and a host of other demographics. They are Nixon’s silent majority, John Anderson’s and Ross Perot’s independents, Ron Paul’s libertarians and the protesters who saw the one-party Obama government spend us into oblivion. Last week, many of the faces I know from the movement were delegates, alternates and guests.
Tea Party activists were present in Tampa and will be in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention, although not as visible or welcome. For the most part, they are wiser, more underground, and waiting for four years of power before they voice policy opinions. Six years ago, some of us were for Mr. Romney and still are, but many of those new to politics were for Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and then Rick Santorum in wild succession. That shocked the party higher-ups and may even have awakened them, for the benefit of all.
Donna Wiesner Keene is CEO of BrainTrain, a political marketing company, and senior fellow with Independent Women’s Forum in Washington.