Recognizing the emerging popularity of the so-called tea parties, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele sought to embrace the fringe movement. “If I wasn’t doing this job, I’d be out there with the tea partiers,” Steele recently told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. But the tea party movement Steele is encouraging does not appear to be a loyal servant to the GOP. Many of its activists are in fact running for office to take on Republicans.
In December, ThinkProgress reported that ten GOP incumbents were being challenged by tea party activists in Republican primaries. In the interim weeks, many more tea party activists have stepped up to challenge both top Republican recruits and more Republican incumbents, denouncing the hand-picked candidates as too moderate and current lawmakers as divorced from conservative governance:
— Despite his recent conversion to the GOP, Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL) is facing a serious challenge from tea party activist Les Phillip in the Republican primary. Local conservative radioshow host Dale Jackson said both Michael Steele and the NRCC should be “ashamed” to support Griffith. “He was unacceptable a year ago and he’s acceptable now? A year ago, they were saying this guy was a murderer.”
— Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has drawn several tea party challengers in his primary election. Jerry Ray Hall — no relation — even submitted his ballot application with the word “Tea” after his middle name.
— Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) faces developer and tea party supporter Frank Roszell in a primary. “No one will jerk my chain but my wife,” he promises on his campaign Web site.
— Chris Younts is challenging Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) for the Republican nomination. “Contrary to opinions on both sides, the Tea Party movement was never intended to play the role of an infatuated, doting cheerleader of all players with an ‘R’ on their jersey, regardless of past indiscretions,” noted Younts.
— The National Republican Campaign Committee has placed its support behind State Sen. Robert Hurt (R-VA) to run against Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). However, Hurt has been eviscerated by his tea party opponents for voting to raise taxes and recently, for refusing to participate in the tea party-organized debates.
— Former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-IN), in a coup for the NRCC, announced that he intends to run against Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN). However, tea party activists Todd Young and Travis Hankins have been campaigning for this seat for months, and it remains to be seen if Sodrel can surpass them in the GOP primary.
The emergence of the tea parties as the opposition movement says more about Republicans than it does the agenda of the Obama administration. The Republican Party has not articulated coherent plans to deal with the health care crisis, poverty, global warming, dependence on foreign oil, financial industry abuses, or any other major national issue. Perhaps that is why so many tea party-goers are now challenging the Republican status quo.