Senate Democrats say the tea party is holding House Speaker John A. Boehner’s leash, but in reality the grass-roots movement is anything but unified over the Ohio Republican and how he has handled the spending scrap on Capitol Hill.
One tea party leader has dismissed Mr. Boehner as worse than TV actor Charlie Sheen and called for his ouster in 2012. But other tea partyers say Mr. Boehner needs more time to deliver on the GOP’s pledge to slash federal spending.
“Anyone who thinks these guys are going to come to Washington and turn things around within a three-month period - that’s unrealistic,” Amy Kremer, the head of Tea Party Express, told reporters Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “We didn’t get here in three months, we are not going to change it in three months. So, I think we have to be practical and realistic about it and give them a little bit of room to do the things they said they’re going to do. But I can tell you patience is wearing thin.”
Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said his group is more focused on fiscal discipline over the long haul than going after Mr. Boehner.
“We had relatively low expectations in the first place and we don’t expect to see the country to change overnight,” he said. “These institutions have been around a long time. The way they operate and the way power is utilized, the ways budgets are passed, we expect that it is going to take us several electoral cycles to really institute serious change to push the country back toward its founding principles.”
But Judson Phillips, the outspoken leader of Tea Party Nation, has railed against Mr. Boehner, vowing that if he doesn’t start fighting on behalf of the conservatives who put him in office, he will be replaced.
“We are looking for a good, solid conservative,” Mr. Phillips told The Washington Times. “He has not kept his word about cutting the budget. Under his leadership, it is just business as usual. We can no longer afford business as usual.”
The diverging views on Mr. Boehner’s performance in the early innings of the 112th Congress is a reminder that while the tea party and the GOP share the basic goal of cutting federal spending, they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on other fronts, like forcing a government shutdown rather than compromising on budget deals with the Democrats.
“There are many different groups in this movement and not any group speaks for the entire movement,” Ms. Kremer said. “Judson has made that very vocal opinion [about Mr. Boehner] and some people support that. Others do not. We have not gotten there yet.”
After the November election, when tea partyers played a major role in giving Republicans control of the House, the movement has gone through a few growing pains. The fissures were on display in March after Mr. Phillips said, “Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner.”
The remarks drew the ire of Mr. Meckler who called them “offensive and inappropriate.” Mr. Phillips “is a great example of why people criticize tea partyers as being offensive and out of control,” he said.
Heading into the 2012 election, there are also differing views whether to target moderate incumbent Republicans with tea party candidates.
Ms. Kremer plans to back a conservative challenge to Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, despite the fact that the four-term Republican has already secured the endorsement of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who was elected last year with strong support from the state’s tea party.
At the same time, she suggested that despite Sen. Scott Brown’s shortcomings as a conservative, he is likely the “lesser of two evils” in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, where it would be difficult for a strict conservative to win the seat.
Mr. Philips, though, said Mr. Brown, who became the darling of the movement when he won the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat last year, has thrown the tea party under the bus and suggested that the Massachusetts Tea Party should try to knock him off in 2012.