Coming of age

"Coming of age" Continued...

Issue: "Libyan exodus," March 26, 2011

"This is what's so cool about the Tea Party and why it's still growing even if we're not out on the street all the time anymore protesting," explains Carender. "It's because groups like True the Vote and others are working on their pet issues and creating these resources that can then be shared throughout the entire network. So now none of the rest of us has to figure out how to deal with voter fraud in our states because True the Vote has done that for us."

Bonnie Angster of Sun City, Ariz., says she has seen this kind of specialization firsthand in her local Tea Party. "We had some members break off because they really wanted to focus on whether laws being proposed at the state and federal level are following the constitutional mandate, so now they meet separately and track and make calls, and send emails on that issue."

Chairman and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance and Carender's co-presenter, Eric O'Keefe, said another significant strategy for the Tea Party going forward will be to exploit previously undervalued channels of influence, pointing out that Washington is not the only game in town.

"It can be really hard to get leverage with the national politicians and to get consensus and commitment at that level," he said. "But there's tremendous opportunity to recruit state legislators, city councils, precinct committeemen, even school board members." He later added, "We don't need to change election laws, we need to optimize the options we already have."

While Tea Party leaders make it clear that they will make every effort to keep Republicans (especially those they helped elect) accountable, their plan for optimization also includes turning their attention toward the nation's other major political party. One topic that seemed to be on everyone's lips was how to recruit conservative Democrats to run against liberal incumbents in the 2012 Democratic primaries.

After such big wins in the 2010 midterm election, where the Tea Party helped elect half of the 100 new members of Congress, Carender says broadening their outlook to the party that seems-at first glance-opposed to almost everything the Tea Party stands for, is simply smart politics.

"What we want to do is change the range of what's acceptable, and you're not going to do that by just focusing on Republicans," she says. She points to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's midterm campaign in particular: "Who would have ever thought that a Democrat would have an ad where he's shooting a gun and putting a bullet through the cap-and-trade act? Jon Stewart made fun of it . . . to me that was pretty clear evidence that we had changed the conversation."

"We're not talking about a blitzkrieg, we're talking about trench warfare," said Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund from the main hall podium on Saturday. He was addressing the dangers of raising the debt ceiling, but he could just as easily have been describing the evolving and increasingly sophisticated Tea Party.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Charlotte, N.C. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.


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