A founder of the “tea party” movement said Wednesday he had a warning for Republican state leaders: Back conservative candidates or else other states will suffer the same backlash that toppled Florida’s Republican Party chairman this week.
“We are turning our guns on anyone who doesn’t support constitutional conservative candidates,” said Dale Robertson, who operates TeaParty.org out of Houston and helped start the movement nearly two years ago.
He declined to say which states are next on the tea party’s hit list. He said party leaders in those states would be warned privately, but the movement’s wrath “will be very clear publicly” if they don’t listen.
“If they continue to do things like they did in Florida, it’s not going to be good for them,” Mr. Robertson said. “If they don’t get that, and their party chairmen don’t get that, they are going to be ostracized.”
Another activist group, Tea Party Patriots, made a more subtle threat, aimed at both Republicans and Democrats.
The movement is “going to continue to hold the elected officials and party leaders accountable,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s Georgia-based national coordinator. “People in America are very tired of the irresponsible taxing and spending that has happened in Washington. They want a return to fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets.”
Mrs. Martin said both parties would pay at the polls if they ignored the tea party movement.
Democrats say the tension between the tea party activists and mainstream Republicans is a “civil war” that will undermine Republicans’ hopes for significant gains in the midterm elections in November.
Mr. Robertson planned to deliver the warning in a phone call Wednesday to National Republican Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, who a day earlier said he supported the tea party activists and that he didn’t think their movement had caused a schism within the party.
RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Democrats are the ones suffering from a fractured party, including divisions over President Obama’s health care overhaul and economic policies.
“Republicans are unified and have the momentum after the 2009 elections and going into 2010,” she said. “The grass-roots movement is strong and organic, which makes us well-positioned for the midterms.”
In Florida, a struggle between conservative activists and the Republican Party establishment forced state GOP Chairman Jim Greer to quit Tuesday. He blamed his decision on activists who he said “turned their guns on fellow Republicans instead of focusing our efforts on defeating Democrats.”
“While some are more interested in tearing and shredding the fabric of the Republican Party to pieces, I will not be a participant in this destructive behavior,” Mr. Greer said in a resignation letter.
Mr. Greer had been under fire for backing Gov. Charlie Crist, considered a moderate in the party who last year praised President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan, in the race for the Republican nomination for Senate over former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is supported by the tea party movement.
The chairman’s resignation headed off a party meeting Saturday where he expected to face fierce opposition from conservative activists.
Mr. Robertson stressed that his tea party network, which he said has about 6 million members across the country, is nonpartisan and would support conservative candidates regardless of party affiliation.