The New Conservative Gold Rush
The Tea Party is not the Republican Party. Most Republicans don’t understand this. In fact, most Republicans would label me a Democrat just for making that statement. While many of my fellow Republicans were sobbing about the looming Obama takeover, we somehow missed the conservative gold rush. Some dried their tears early and began to seize an opportunity.
The conservative, if not Libertarian, movement known as the Tea Party bares little resemblance to its namesake Boston Tea Party occurring over 200 years ago. This movement is all about empowerment of the misinformed masses. In Boston, it was one defiant protest. The similarities, by contrast, serve as iconic and powerful propaganda for the conservative tidal wave that is sweeping rural and suburban America.
The Boston Tea Party was a single and notable event. Boston officials sent a message to the British Parliament on December 16, 1773 when they stole the taxed tea on three ships and tossed it into the harbor. The message was a continuation (some would point out it was the onset) of our American Revolution. The basis of the criminal activity of the Boston Tea Party was a direct protest of taxation without representation. The key is that it was about being taxed by representatives that they didn’t choose. This predates the First Continental Congress and certainly national elections in North America.
The Tea Party movement may have begun the moment more than one American taxpayer realized government is lousy with money, but officially it will be marked in our history books as a reaction occurring on February 17, 2009. The widely unpopular American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the nation-splitting earthquake that created the conservative groundswell. It certainly felt like taxation without representation. And, as I said, some saw an opportunity.
Patriots, Teabaggers, Teapublicans, “Real” Americans, and self-proclaimed rednecks have an identity crisis. Just as in high-school, she who defines the clique becomes encircled with friends. Once an identity exists, it’s easier to copy than create. I am a conservative American, a Republican by Party affiliation, a Patriot by love of freedom and an entrepreneur by the need to provide for my family. I am not a Tea Party “member” nor comfortable with any of the aforementioned monikers they’ve adopted on whole.
This identity crisis has led to divisions much deeper than Party lines. The ever-feared Independent and the Red vs. Blue has given way to a new faction: the Teabaggers. As Republicans, we were conquered and immediately divided on Election Day 2008. The Democratic ‘takeover’ of Congress and the historical election of a young, liberal President somehow removed the cornerstone of the Republican Party. As Republicans, we showed our hand. We had no understanding of the young voters. No understanding of grassroots political activism. No understanding of the new technology of politics and the new reign of media-driven campaigns.
Those who recognized this opportunity ruled what came next. Overnight in the suburbs, the cities and the agricultural epicenters across America, the Tea Party of 2009 was born. Anywhere the internet touches an angry, disappointed Independent (or worse) a former Republican, a foothold was created.
The Tea Party movement has given those disenfranchised by the Grand Ole Party a logical and well-identified path toward the Right. And it’s given conservative Independents a clear voice/platform. That sort of reactionary shift is the change that the Obaministas capitalized on in their sweep of National politics; they were the clear opposite of the Bush Regime. The Tea Party is the only clear opposite to the new liberal normal. Why? You thought Republicans were? Me too. Until now.
The Republican political machine may have given up. It may have been underfunded, or maybe is was just outpaced (that’s PC for outsmarted for those keeping score). How many in your vocal group of political complaining thought McCain was our best choice/defense against Obama? How clear were you as a Republican on the Republican message to our Nation?
The Tea Party has answered the question of “what do we do now?”. While we feared the “hope” and the “change” of the Obama machine…those conservatives in shock of the Republican defeat are now clinging to that king of hopeful rhetoric. Beyond that, it’s a simple bullet-point message that the Tea Party is delivering. 1) Fiscal Responsibility 2) Limited/Smaller Government 3) Free Markets.
In walk the Libertarians who drive the backbone of the movement. Let’s remember that the long-term domination of the Republican leadership under the double-barreled Bush Administration created the biggest increase of Independents. Now we see the sudden Democratic takeover fostering fragmentation of the Republican Party while clarifying the analogous pool of Independents. We saw the largest surge in Libertarian candidates and fundraising during the last National Elections. Remember Ron Paul? We also saw the largest number of “converting Independents” [see your local Board of Elections website if you’re doubtful].
Let’s address the message delivery issue. It’s the single most important discussion of this Tea Party movement and has all but recently torn it apart. Cue the irony. What is the official Tea Party movement slogan? There isn’t one. What is the official website? There isn’t one. And, unless you were one of the few who paid $549 to attend the (big air quotes) National Tea Party Convention (big air quotes) in Nashville, TN this month…there hasn’t been one official meeting. But just log on to your favorite social network or pick up your local paper/favorite national magazine and you can find your nearest Tea Party group in an instant. They will look and feel like an official political Party and are likely better organized and have better public relations in place than most large charities. Taking ques from recently successful national and regional campaigns, Tea Bagging Patriots have utilized digital social media to do what we Republicans can only accuse ACORN of doing…rally like-minded people together.
The Tea Party is pushing a new hope and change the way Amway pushes makeup and energy drinks; and the pyramids are growing. Unlike the most annoying business in the world; their message is resonating within your neighborhood. There is no mantra (save the three bullet points) and clearly no leader.
So what’s the plan for the Tea Party? Protests? Money? Power? The answer is two-fold. There is a duality of this movement that fascinates me as an entrepreneur and self-proclaimed web geek. If you make the mistake of reading too much into this duality you cheapen the true power and momentum of the Tea Party. Don’t do that. The recent attempt at a National convention for this non-partisan political party wannabe known as the Tea Party movement best illustrates this duality.
Tea Party Nation founder, Judson Phillips, probably thought business would be good for his for-profit company when he organized what he claimed to be the first National Tea Party Convention on Feb. 4 at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel. After all, he wrangled former Alaskan Governor and past Vice President hopeful Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker. Talk about an identity crisis for the Tea Party! Politically, Palin has no respect. In suburban American however, she’s a goddess of all that is good for conservative, God-fearing, hard working folk. The problem is Sarah gave a great speech (who care’s about notes on a hand?) and nobody at the Tea Party seemed to care. She wasn’t there to clarify or unite…she was there because the ticket cost $549 and you want the media to pay attention. The event was a total failure saving two elements…publicity for the Tea Party platform and profit.
Tea Party profiteering is laughable after just a 2 minute trip around the series of tubes known as Google. Mr. Phillip’s own Tea Party Nation website lets you “quench your thirst for freedom” as long as you note his sponsors such as the teapartyemporium.com…yeah…really. Or perhaps you can show you are real American with a Tea Shirt. Or maybe you just want to click on the thousands of PayPal Donate buttons across the hundreds of Tea Party-related websites that support their cause…what is that exactly? Firstly, none of the 30+ websites I visited followed any political activity oriented fundraising guidelines in terms of disclosures. Second, I’ve yet to see any public reporting of Tea Party fundraising numbers.
Remember though I cautioned against diminishing the Tea Party movement. Perhaps their collective PR machine is just a little out of balance, because what they have done and what they are about to do is very real. And they are really good at their primary focus. Sadly, it is not one of the three bullet points.
The Tea Party activists will rock the next election cycle the way Woodstock changed American music. This brings me to the warning to every elected official. To best understand this warning we need to analyze the epicenter of the movement…our back yard.
Glenn Reynolds of The Wall Street Journal writes, “Cincinnati tea-party activists are running candidates for Republican precinct executive in every precinct in their area—if elected, these candidates will help set policy platforms within the GOP and have sway over which candidates the party endorses.” But wait, they said they were Teapublicans and they’ve shown up at all the Republican events!??! Wake up fellow Republicans. I may be the Paul Revere or Chicken Little of this very real paranoia, but let’s look at the facts.
Currently in Butler County, Ohio, just a few days prior to the May Primary candidate petition filing deadline, over 50 Central Committee seats within the Republican Party are being challenged. Virtually none of them are members of the Republican Party yet nearly all of them voted Republican or Independent in the recent past. Who are these folks? Where did they come from? The Tea Party activist neighborhood groups of course. Namely, the Fairfield and Cincinnati factions.
Understand that a Central Committeeman or precinct representative (as they are known Nationally) is the lowest level partisan elected office in Butler County. However, they along with the appointed Executive Committeeman, makeup the Butler County Republican Party voting membership. Therefore, they collectively control Party bylaw changes and, more importantly, candidate endorsements and screening at the Party level. Republican candidates and the Republican Party dominate the current elected landscape in Butler County, Ohio. However, Independents far outnumber the red and blue.
The Tea Party has done what we as Republicans shown we could not. The Tea Party has done what the liberals only wish they could. They have created yet another faction within our Party, but worse, it extends far outside our Party. The disappointed of the Libertarians, Independents and Republicans have stepped away from the tenants of Republican Conservatism in favor of Tea Party bullet points and mini-meetup groups. The Independents that were leaning towards the conservative leadership of the Republican Party have been derailed by clear and concise activism. I support the 3 principles generally agreed upon by those who would call themselves Tea Party members, but I am a Republican. And I fear I’m the only one left.
At EVERY Butler County Republican Party event, candidate-specific fundraiser, or related event I am barraged with Tea Party good-speak. “We” thank them for their verve, ‘we’ acknowledge their efforts and “we” proclaim our allegiance and brotherhood. Later, the local Tea Party groups meet at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Fairfield, Ohio and discuss how they can take over Republican Central Committee seats. Our Republican-endorsed candidate for Governor, John Kasich, proclaims allegiance to the Tea Party, as do John Boehner and candidates Rob Portman and Steve Chabot. Each of these men I will vote for, but with more hesitation and concern than need be. What do they see in the Tea Party? It can’t be the clear agenda. It can’t be the leadership that cannot be identified. It can’t be the fundraising capability that can’t be quantified. Ah…wait. Maybe it’s the voting base. Maybe it’s the elusive conservative, educated voter that their own Republican Party has forgotten. Perhaps, they recognize that their own Party has neglected to capitalize on an apparent opportunity. Unfortunately, I think most just grabbed onto a message of conservatism that resonates with a growing majority of Americans best defined by the Tea Party. I say it’s unfortunate, but the Tea Party has no intention of keeping the old guard these great leaders and politicians represent.
During this next Primary Election the Tea Party may serve as the final nail in the Republican Party’s proverbial coffin. At the very least, many of my Republican friends will find the Tea Party is a knife in their back. My hope is that all Republicans will find the Tea Party is just reminder of what we meant to do in that Little Schoolhouse in 1854. Reagan reminded us in 1980 and it seems that we’ve lost our way. We’ve, at a minimum, lost our message. The Tea Party has 3 clear messages. As a Republican, I’m searching for just one that we all agree on. If we cannot figure it out quickly we will miss out on the new conservative gold rush that is happening across the United States.
Shawn is President and Founder of Adaptive Wealth Group, Inc. and Founder of Gigglebox Ventures LLC in Cincinnati. He resides in Fairfield Township, Ohio and is a Butler County Republican Party Central Committeeman. He’s a Financial Planner, Investment Manager, Insurance Agent, Dad, Husband, Entrepreneur, Pilot, total Business Geek, Finance Junky, Over-Eater, Music Nut, and Social Media Addict.
Related Articles and Videos