Tea Party Lessons From The 2010 Primary


With the U.S. Senate race to unseat Progressive-Lite Bill Nelson well underway here in Florida, the 2012 election season is off and running.  Unbelievable, huh?  Much like NASCAR, there’s not much of an off season in politics anymore.

As the tea party begins preparing for the upcoming Republican primary election, it would behoove us to take a look back on some of the lessons from 2010.

And there’s no better place to start than Florida’s D8 race, which began with a very large field and even with the expected attrition, seven candidates still remained in the end.  Of course, when presented with the opportunity to knock the dastardly Alan Grayson from his perch, it’s understandable that this would be a popular temptation.

Of these seven individuals, there were several accepted tea party candidates and a couple more that worked hard to be seen as such.  Which presents the first lesson.  Ultimately, Dan Webster won the primary with 40% of the vote, with the general feeling being that the best candidate emerged.  However, that still means 60% of registered Republicans voted for someone else.

Webster entered the primary late, after initially saying that he would not run.  With his storied history in state politics and strong name recognition, he was seen as the favorite from day one.  There were many who saw Webster as an ‘establishment’ pick, however, as Alan Grayson would soon discover, he has very little baggage after years in office.

Unless you consider Webster’s ties to the Taliban…JUST KIDDING!  Couldn’t resist taking one last poke at our friend Grayson for airing the worst political ad in the history of political ads!

So, where were we?  Oh yeah…tea party lesson.  If the tea party hopes to see a true grassroots candidate emerge victorious in a primary race where every possible advantage works against such candidates, then it must coalesce it’s support around a single choice.  When you consider that established candidates typically have a huge financial edge, the expertise of professional staffers working on their behalf and a well oiled ground game already in place, then the already long odds become impossible otherwise.

Speaking of professional campaign staffers, it was with bemused astonishment that some of us witnessed this steady stream of young guns flow into the Central Florida area to assist certain candidates, all sharing one commonality.  Phone numbers with a 703 area code, leaving us to speculate about a possible factory in the burbs of Virgina spitting out these young phenoms.

As for the first lesson, if tea party support is split between several candidates, then we’d do just as well to stay home.  With 60% of voters supporting someone other than the eventual winner, CD8 was certainly a winnable race for the grassroots. Of course, there must be one individual capable of earning this support in the face of competition, which was not necessarily the case in this race.

Which leads us to the next lesson. Ultimately, in politics, you have to choose sides.  Who are you going to stand with.  This is not always easy, however, you are deciding ‘none of the above’ by not making a choice.  There is a school of thought out there that we don’t want to alienate the eventual winner, but there’s an easy way to avoid this – make sure your candidate wins!  To sit on the fence and avoid offending anyone, we concede the battle to the political class and it’s assembly line of candidates.  And we’d do well to remember that in politics, yesterday’s adversary is tomorrow’s ally.

The tea party cannot lose sight of one indisputable fact, it’s source of strength and influence comes from it’s sheer numbers.  Something far too many groups in this state have lost sight of.  The health care reform battle was a clear example of this, where the tea party shook the political class in this country to it’s very core.  By having individual groups and coalitions pursuing their own agenda, the tea party minimizes it’s only effective weapon.

Also, those who identify as leaders in the tea party need to understand that leadership involves responsibility.  And responsibility involves decision making, which leads to accountability.  Think what you will of the political class, but they eagerly pursue responsibility and accept accountability, albeit not always in a manner we’d prefer.

It’s far easier not to make decisions that it is to make decisions, which can protect a leader’s standing in the short run, but in the long run, it does a lot of harm to the movements ability to retain support and does far more damage than good for a leaders standing.  Just ask Barack Obama.

A final lesson from 2010 centers on campaign tactics and again we refer to the D8 primary race.  This was a tightly contested race, yet, not once did any of the candidates involved go negative, which is a testament to the character of these seven individuals.  As citizens of our communities, we must make it clear to all candidates and their base supporters that we will not tolerate politics of destruction.

This ‘win at all costs’ tactic turns people off to the political process at a critical time in our history when everyone’s participation is needed.  A candidate who will go to any length to win an election will do nothing to secure the future of this great country.

Of course, this is all just the humble opinion of a naive tea partier.  Based on the reception I’m sure it will receive, perhaps I should of filed it under ‘rambling thoughts’…