The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

From Protest to Praticality, Revisited

After the first Tea Parties last year, I shared my thoughts on what the Tea Party movement should do going forward…and, perhaps more importantly, what we should NOT do:

The Tea Party movement must not become a tool of a political party or ideology. Everyone already thinks that the movement was funded and pushed by some vast group of right wing puppeteers. Yes, cutting taxes and government spending/interference are conservative principles…but not necessarily Republican ones. The Tea Party movement must remain on message, and welcome everyone to the table who believes in that message…including Blue Dog Democrats.

People must check their egos and ambitions at the door. It would be a shame to watch the Tea Party movement become what, to some degree, the pro-mission movement has become: a collection of various small groups that share the same members and resources, but are rarely able to come to consensus on overall messaging and strategy. Unfortunately, that’s already beginning.  Tea Partiers must realize that movements such as ours are easily killed by individual ambition-especially at their outset. We are one group, united under a common mission and purpose. Building spinoff groups could well prove fatal to that mission.

Since the fact that the movement has gravitated to conservative/Republican candidates is fairly obvious (and may well have been a foregone conclusion), I’m going to concentrate on my second point from both a national standpoint and a Virginia one…because, of the two, it’s got the bigger potential to spell disaster for the movement.

Nationally, there’s never been one true leader of the Tea Party movement (a fact that continuously confuses our detractors). Most of us who were there at the beginning (read: February to around May 2009) fell under the coordination of the group that would become Tea Party Patriots (though not necessarily their leadership). From there, Tea Party Express (a wholly owned subsidiary of Our Country Deserves Better PAC) popped up. Then Tea Party Nation, another for-profit enterprise. And the list goes on.

Multiplicity has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. All the various groups have been able to coordinate under the umbrella of the National Tea Party Federation with a minimum of infighting-the blessing.

The curse? Instances like Mark Williams’ “letter”-which was trotted out as an example of the entire movement’s “racism.”

Heading into our second year, we’d do well to remember that the actions of one-be they one individual or one organization-can be miscast in a negative light for all of us.

About ego and ambition:

When we were planning the first Tea Party in Hampton Roads, I asked for a speaking spot, thinking that-for someone who was remotely considering a run for office-it would be a good springboard. I backed off that idea, for two reasons: first, my role in planning the local event diminished when I began coordinating the rallies across VA, and second, I just didn’t think it was appropriate to “use” the movement to build recognition for myself. While the pictures of me speaking at the rally look impressive to some, all I really did was thank people for coming. That’s it. And while the recognition came, it was because of the results of the individual organizers…and the vast majority of it, for me, was negative.

There’s been a lot of noise made about Jamie Radkte, the chairwoman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots, running for office somewhere-possibly against Sen. Webb in 2012. Jamie stepped in to fill a leadership void that came up after I joined the McDonnell campaign staff, and her work has been impressive and admirable.

However, a word of caution is warranted.

Putting on my Tea Party hat: making the leap from activist to candidate is, at best, difficult…more so the higher you go up the chain. I would hate to see VTTP suffer from a lack of strong leadership, or-worse-the infighting that will ultimately arise from Jamie’s detractors within VTTP (there’s already a “Jamie Radtke Doesn’t Speak For Me!” group on Facebook).

Second, under my Republican hat-and I have some experience with this one-the “Tea Party candidate” label doesn’t exactly go over too well in some areas of the Commonwealth. In many, it’s a bigger detriment than it is a help. If the objective is to beat Webb (or a more progressive candidate) in 2012, nominating someone who is the face of the Tea Party in Virginia may not be the best way to accomplish that. Especially not with Obama back on the ballot.

Ken Cuccinelli-probably the closest thing to a true Tea Party candidate VA’s had-ran successfully statewide. But by ’12, that campaign will be (recent) history.

(and I’m not going to even ask how, should she choose to run, Jamie would take her message to the black community. Been there, done that…and it’s not fun. And it will be MUCH harder for her than it was for me)

I’m the last person on earth that would encourage someone not to run for office…I had enough of that advice myself (and listened to none of it), so I know how that feels.

At the same time, I don’t want to see an organization that I am very proud of implode because of an unchecked ego, or because someone else thinks something like this would be a good idea.

Because everything I’m looking at says it’s not.




Written by Coby Dillard

December 6, 2010 at 8:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Coby-

    A couple of things:

    1) Tea party leadership can and should be one of the ways we develop candidates for office – any office – local, state or federal. One of the goals of the VA Tea Party Alliance PAC is to develop candidates- from the tea party and other grassroots sources. Maybe you felt ego was involved in your decision about speaking at the Tax Day Tea Party in Virginia Beach on April 2009. You ended up speaking anyway. It would be a mistake to construe your personal experience to be true for everyone. It certainly is not true in Jamie’s case, although people have been asking her to run for various offices for years.

    2) I have been involved with the State tea party organization from the beginning- the first meeting was held in my kitchen. The Leadership within the Federation is strong. In fact, we have set a goal to double the number of tea parties in VA in the coming year. While we will miss Jamie. In our movement, we raise up the next one to take the place. We have elected a new Executive Board and will have another convention in 2011.

    3) Obama will not be a factor in the VA Senate race in 2012 – except as a negative. Webb is already trying to distance himself from Obama. Obama has an abysmal approval rating, and I doubt it will go higher. There is a good chance that he will be challenged within his own party for the nomination. He brought down the numbers for any candidate he campaigned for. If you are implying that people will still vote on externals such as race, in this day and age, and not principle, then that is an issue within that community. That is a sad state, indeed.

    Karen M. Hurd

    December 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  2. Karen,
    I’ll take a “wait and see” approach to the your second point, as you’re closer to the leadership than I am.

    Far as your third point…Obama is going to posit the 2012 elections as “defend the change.” Now, yes…some people are going to look and say “what change?” But there is a significant number of people who will vote for Obama just because he’s black, or just because he’s a Democrat (some might do so even if he’s NOT the Democrat they want).

    Consider this, though: Tom Perriello running in place of Webb-with the backing of a more progressive Dem presidential nominee-and Jamie Radtke. That could bring out the hard anti-Tea Party types, which-for the most part-we haven’t seen in VA, mostly because of lackluster candidates.

    A campaign like that forces you to campaign everywhere. And being the head of the Tea Party here is going to shut some doors.

    (And it’s not that I don’t like Jamie, because I do. I’d say the same to you.)

    Coby Dillard

    December 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

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