Tea Party in the Capital

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BY JOHN FUND – It looks as if the Tea Party movement is already showing some of its teeth. It is battling it out over which group will have the ears of the incoming 83 Republican freshmen House members at orientation meetings this weekend.


Tea Party Patriots, the umbrella group coordinating the national activities of hundreds of individual Tea Party groups, has sent out an e-mail warning that “DC insiders, the Republican National Committee, and lobbyists are already trying to push the Tea Party aside and co-opt the incoming Congressmen.”

At issue is that a meeting this Sunday organized by Tea Party Patriots so that over 100 of their local coordinators could interact with the freshmen members now has competition. The Claremont Institute, a respected conservative think tank based in California, is having a competing meeting at the same time on Sunday.

Jenny Beth Martin, a Tea Party Patriots leader, told me that because her group had invested over $100,000 in flying local activists to Washington they offered to combine the two events but were rebuffed by Claremont. That then prompted some Tea Party members to send out an e-mail urging local activists to contact the incoming members of Congress and “tell them you want them to attend your Tea Party Patriots event” instead of the Claremont event, which they disparage as an event at which “lobbyists and consultants can sink their claws into the freshmen, and begin to ‘teach them’ the ways of DC.” They then list the names of a few Beltway players who are listed as “coordinators” for the event.

I think that is an overly harsh characterization, given that Claremont is a think tank largely populated by philosophers and constitutional scholars. The keynote speaker for their event is Bill Bennett, a former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education.

But the Tea Party is determined to flex its muscles. “This is our first chance to stand against the DC status quo,” their e-mail states. “Let’s show them that you won’t tolerate politics as usual and show them the power of the Tea Party.” Brian Kennedy, the president of Claremont, told me “It would be most unfortunate if a few Tea Party folks made the movement look like bullies, giving the left the perfect story for a few days.”

Republican freshmen may be grateful for the Tea Party support that propelled them to victory last week. But they may be hearing a lot from them on a variety of issues, and in somewhat demanding tones. Let’s hope civility reigns on both sides.