At a town hall event in Utah last night, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) warned Tea Party activists that they should work with the GOP, or risk electing liberals:
“If we fractionalize the Republican Party, we are going to see more liberals elected,” Hatch warned a crowd of 300 at a town meeting at American Fork Junior High School on Wednesday night, amid jeers from Tea Party supporters.
Hatch blamed the Tea Party movement for the loss of Sen. Gordon Smith, a politically moderate but fiscally conservative Republican from Oregon.
Hatch said if the Tea Party had not backed a constitutionalist candidate in that race, Brown wouldn’t have lost to Democrat Jeff Merkley, whom Hatch described as “the most liberal senator,” by 45,000 votes.
Tea Party activists in the crowd were not pleased, with one telling Hatch, “I think you guys are as out of touch as you can get.” Tea partiers may also have been offended at being blamed for Merkley’s election in 2008, despite the fact that the Tea Party movement started in early 2009.
Hatch’s comments reflect a growing divide among Republicans about how to deal with the Tea Party. Karl Rove writes today, “The Republican Party and the tea party movement have many common interests right now. But they are, and should remain, distinct from one another.” But some party leaders, like Hatch, are pushing in the opposite direction. Sarah Palin, for instance, said, “we have a two-party system, they’re going to have to pick a party and run one or the other: ‘R’ or ‘D’.”
As ThinkProgress has documented, many Republican Party activists have used the Tea Party movement to make a profit. The Alantic’s Max Fisher wonders, “Will the movement and the leadership clash, or will Republican[s] finally make the Tea Party a force of their own?”
Karin Hoffman, the founder of a Florida Tea Party chapter called DC Works for Us, rejected the notion of creating a third party. He said, “Until a third party would actually pull away from both sides of the equation, it really would be disruptive and kind of diminish what we’re trying to do.”