For months, Republicans have been trying to co-opt the tea party movement, supporting its activities and pandering to activists while discouraging them from forming a third party. RNC Chairman Michael Steele met with tea party leaders in January to encourage them to join the GOP, while Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) warned the movement not to “fractionalize the Republican Party.” Even tea party favorites like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) have come out against an official tea party, saying that he wants to “avoid a third party by giving Republicans and independents good choices in Republican primaries.”
But appearing on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show last night, contributor Sarah Palin had surprising take, seemingly endorsing the idea of third party to keep Republicans honest:
HANNITY: If it’s a strong conservative that gets the Republican nomination and then a tea party member runs as a third party candidate, do you have any worry about that?
PALIN: I do have a little bit of worry about that but at the same time that can be part of a healthy process, though. A third party candidate can really shore-up a Republican candidate in terms of that Republican candidate having to be very strong and sharp and debate aggressively, regarding the positions that they have taken.
A third party candidate, I think, Sean, can actually help in this process. And if nothing else a third party candidate is going to help keep the Republican Party being held accountable, too.
Palin’s comments are particularly surprising considering that, in February, she told activists that “the Tea Party movement is not a party” and that they are “going to have to pick a party.” And on Hannity last month, she urged tea party activists to “take over” the GOP in lieu of starting their own party.
Moreover, Palin’s comments seem to contradict the will of the tea party movement. Tea party activists in Florida and Nevada have registered official political parties, but both have met fierce resistance from the grass roots. Twenty tea party groups came out “united in denouncing” the Nevada Tea Party, saying, it “is not now, has never been, and will never be affiliated with grassroots efforts in Nevada.” A Tax Day, Tea Party poll found that 94 percent of respondents believed the third party candidate should withdraw from the race.
And in Florida, the official party was “met with suspicion and outright hostility by many in the movement.” “This is exactly what we’re fighting against,” South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson said of the official party.