What are the repurcussions to the movement when Tea Partiers deny their "heritage?"
A recent news article discussed how a number of Tea Party-affiliated candidates are choosing not to disclose their “tea heritage” during the campaign. Wary of being negatively labeled, they think it better to run as “stealth” Tea Party candidates.
A founder of a local Tea Party explained it this way: “…candidates (are) afraid voters would be turned off by their tea party connections, regardless of their positions in this race.” Instead, they are simply running as fiscal and social conservatives.
It is a situation that has pitted elements of the Tea Party against each other. Some believe that not identifying oneself as a “Tea Partier” is a prudent move, eliminating a negative stigma — which is often blamed on the mainstream media — attached to the Movement. In doing so, they believe such candidates have a better chance of winning.
Others believe that to be a win-at-all-costs “sell-out” mentality, playing right into the hands of the Tea Party’s political adversaries. Particularly frustrating, these candidates are running away from the TP despite the Movement’s critical role in achieving the largest Republican gains since 1946. These Tea leaders cannot understand such a retreat, particularly since the Movement is holding the cards.
Given that the amorphous Tea Party isn’t a registered political entity, candidates are clearly under no legal obligation to disclose their past affiliations with the TP. But in doing so, they are walking a fine line.
It is not unreasonable for local Tea Parties to withhold support from those candidates, for the simple reason that they feel betrayed. Why should an organization commit the full might of its resources to a member who won’t acknowledge his relationship to that TP? These candidates are perceived as leeching off the Tea, sucking them dry for all they can get, but not crediting them for their help.
As a result, many Tea Parties are refusing to endorse and support their (former) allies.
One TP leader familiar with the candidates in the article called them “cowardly,” adding, “You should stand up for what you believe in. That’s why we’re not going to support” any of the unnamed candidates.
In turning their back on the Movement that “brought them,” those candidates risk getting the worst of both worlds: alienating the Tea Party, and, when word leaks out of past TP affiliations, being viewed as untrustworthy by other voters, who may ask, “If they are so quick to abandon their roots, how can they possibly be trusted to stand firm on their campaign promises?”
If the Tea Party is to maintain cohesiveness and avoid this type of division heading into the 2012 elections, it must wage an aggressive PR campaign that focuses on the true nature of the Movement. If it doesn’t, it will be increasingly defined by its opponents, and that will lead to even more Tea Partiers running away.