Turning the tradition of seniority in politics on its head, the 20-month-old tea party movement suddenly finds itself courted by the 47-year-old American Conservative Union.
“To bring America back and defeat President Obama next year will require humility and gratitude by those of us who have toiled in the vineyards of the conservative movement for decades and suddenly find ourselves as outsiders by some in the tea party who are rightfully skeptical of all which occurred before their uprising,” ACU Chairman Alberto Cardenas told The Washington Times in announcing staff changes at the organization.
His words are calculated to counter the views expressed by some tea party leaders that Mr. Cardenas and his group represent the old guard and have an arrogantly condescending view of the new activists on the right, including the hundreds of tea party groups scattered over the American landscape.
Mr. Cardenas overture is being greeted with a combination of skepticism and optimism.
“The independent-thinking tea party activists are always looking for good resources to educate themselves and others,” Mark Kevin Lloyd, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, told The Washington Times. “However, they are suspicious of any group with historic ties inside the Beltway. If ACU is willing to work with tea party activists and assist them in the restoration of true constitutional conservative principles to our government, then the potential for real substantive change is enhanced.”
“Time will tell,” Mr. Lloyd added.
Mr. Cardenas, who was 12 when he escaped communist rule in his native Cuba, won election as ACU’s new chairman in February.
A former Florida Republican Party chairman whose English is distinctly Spanish-accented, Mr. Cardenas told The Washington Times that he regrets his word choice in saying during an interview with the conservative weekly Human Events that tea party leaders “don’t really have a toolbox of principles,” and the movement “is probably a less-educated conservative movement group” than he has seen in 40 years of political involvement.
Mr. Cardenas, 59, says ACU should not be considered as “old guard” but as the broadcaster of new ideas generated by Washington’s center-right think tanks and local groups like the tea party organizations.
“Truth be told … these tea party newcomers have been able to achieve what the rest of us couldn’t,” Mr. Cardenas told The Times.
“They have brought a degree of passion and effectiveness to the political battlefield with phenomenal success in incredible short order.”
Mr. Cardenas, an attorney and lobbyist, said he has witnessed the magnitude of the uprising spawned by the tea party movement in so short a time period.
“Thanks to them, we achieved changes in 2010 that were deemed an unrealistic dream only months earlier,” he said. “Now we prepare for the most important test of our lifetime - defeating the $1 billion dollar presidential machine of President Obama and the same team who ran the best-ever presidential campaign in 2008.
“To win this one, we all must come together - no rank or hierarchy, in the spirit of one for all and all for one,” he added.
Mr. Cardenas says the ACU will continue its best-known projects.
One is the widely reported conservative-liberal ratings of U.S. Senate and House members that the organization produces every two years, which is considered one of the gold standards of the ideological ratings.
The other is the widely-covered annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that draws more than 10,000 center-right activists from around the country.
He says that with the help of local tea party groups and conservative state think tanks, he plans to hold regional CPACs in addition to the Washington event.
Mr. Cardenas said he has hired a new CPAC director, Christopher Malagisi, who was director of political and media training at conservative-movement veteran Morton Blackwells Leadership Institute in Northern Virginia.
Mr. Malagisi, 29, is a political science adjunct professor at American University and teaches a course titled “History of the Conservative Movement: 1945-Present.”
Mr. Malagisi replaces Lisa De Pasquale as CPAC director.
“Lisa De Pasquale helped take CPAC to heights few thought possible and for that she has our sincere thanks,” said Gregg Keller, 33, the veteran campaign manager whom Mr. Cardenas installed as the new ACU executive director.
Mr. Keller was coalitions director for Mitt Romneys 2008 GOP presidential nomination run and was campaign manager for former Sen. Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri.