Tea Partyers: No 2012 endorsement but plenty to say
Mark Meckler had never "given a dime" to a political candidate and was merely "an interested observer" of politics before CNBC's Rick Santelli's on air rant on Feb. 19, 2009, lit a fire under him and millions like him. He held one of the first Tea Party rallies, on Feb. 27, 2009, in Sacramento.
Now he is the co-head of Tea Party Patriots. The group describes itself as "a national grassroots organization that provides logistical, educational, networking and other types of support to over 1000 community based tea party groups around the country." The group's mission statement reflects its members' focus on economic issues:
The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.
I spoke to Meckler by phone last night, a few days before the "America Policy Summit" in Phoenix. He told me he expects a couple thousand attendees from all over the country. Among the headliners are Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). I asked him if the Tea Party Patriots would endorse a presidential candidate. He told me, "We won't endorse unless our membership want us to." However, he stressed that so far the membership has opposed a presidential endorsement. Meckler explained, "Once you endorse, the dynamics of the relationship flips." Before the endorsement the candidate wants to respond to the group's agenda, but after the endorsement, Meckler believes, the group becomes beholden to the candidate.
Moreover, Meckler doesn't see that any candidate has yet won over the hearts and minds of Tea Partyers. He said bluntly that there "isn't a home run" among the current contenders. He told me he "has not seen any clear favorite."
What does engage the Tea Party? The fight to rein in the size and scope of government. He said that the Wisconsin labor dispute is "the hot-button issue right now" and that "hundreds of thousands of e-mails are flying" among the Tea Partyers. They are also watching the same sort of standoff unfold in Indiana. He told me that the people he talks to are "horrified by the Democrats' abdication" of their responsibilities. By fleeing the state, Democrats, he argued, show that "they no longer like democracy." He said simply, "It's appalling." Quoting Obama, Meckler said that "elections have consequences," but the public employee unions and Democratic politicians refuse to follow the will of the voters.
On the national stage, Meckler said that politicians may not have accepted the need for entitlement reform but that "there is a very different attitude among the people." He said that "the adults around the country" understand the need to get our fiscal house in order.
It's also apparent that Meckler is no political partisan. On California he told me that he thinks Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is doing a far better job than his Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "If anyone has a chance, [Brown] has a chance" to straighten out the state's finances, he argued. But he remains skeptical. "I don't know if he can separate himself from the unions."
Likewise on the national stage, Meckler warns that politicians who don't carry through on their promises will get tossed out in the next election. It is that lack of knee-jerk partisan fidelity that, at least so far, has kept the GOP congressional leadership on its toes.
The Tea Party is not a political party, but it has become a true grass-roots, policy-driven force in American politics. And that is no small thing.
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