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Does Sarah Palin Lead the Tea Party Movement?

The movement is far too diverse and independent for any one person to dominate.

by
Melissa Clouthier

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February 10, 2010 - 12:00 am
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People who talk about a tea party leader have no experience with tea parties. If they did, they’d realize the notion of a tea party leader or someone “hijacking the movement” would be absurd.

Tea party participants aren’t as recalcitrant and generally grumpy as Ron Paul followers, but they’re close. And while less conspiratorial than the Paul followers, they’re certainly more ticked off.

Jim Geraghty summed it up on Twitter this week: “Trying to direct & control the tea party movement is like trying to unionize the hitmen in Grosse Pointe Blank.”

So a piece by Kleinhelder of the Nashvillepost.com ominously titled “Beginning Of The End: Sarah Palin Hijacks the Tea Party Movement” is sort of silly:

The tea party movement is dead. The one I was familiar with anyway. Judson Phillips held it down and Sarah Palin drove a stake right through its heart live last night on C-SPAN in front of an unsuspecting audience.

Sarah Palin didn’t give a tea party speech last night. She gave a partisan Republican address. It was a purely political speech designed to position her for a presidential run in 2012 or 2016. Period. She wasn’t there to celebrate the organic nature of a movement she had nothing to do with creating. She was there to co-opt the name and claim the brand as hers. And she did.

The movement, that came to be officially recognized almost a year ago but whose roots go back further than that, has been snuffed out and replaced in the public mind. The movement that began as a people’s movement of angry independent, libertarians and conservatives will now be thought as the movement of people like Palin, Dick Armey, Judson Phillips, Mark Skoda, etc. Essentially, a wholly owned subsidiary of the “Official Conservative Movement” and the Republican Party.

Well, that’s melodramatic. It’s also nonsense.

Sarah Palin may want to harness tea party support, but she’s already made a couple errors to achieve that end.

The first mistake was headlining Judson Phillips’ Tea Party Nation gathering itself. The rest of the tea party movements in Tennessee wondered how Governor Palin could align herself with someone who so did not represent the values of the tea party movement.

An exclusive gathering of people who could afford $549 per ticket? That’s more like a political fundraiser for a political party. Tea party organizers and participants across the country bristled at that. Those I talked to expressed disappointment. Why not go to a huge rally in some city where thousands, not a few hundred, could hear, they wondered.

Another potential mistake, or series of mistakes, if you want to call them that, will be endorsing candidates who are perceived as establishment or “wrong” over the candidates tea party activists like.

When Sarah Palin endorsed Rand Paul, for example, the hew and cry from local tea party activists immediately reached my ears on Twitter. When Palin endorsed John McCain, tea partiers balked. And now that Palin has endorsed my own state’s Rick Perry over Debra Medina, I am receiving angry Facebook messages lamenting her choice (and also my choice to go to the Palin-Perry rally to report on it).

Every political endorsement holds risk for Sarah Palin. She probably knows this. She also knows that she needs to build credibility within the Republican establishment by endorsing and helping to fund races. Some of these decisions will pit her against the tea party movement, or many within the movement.

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