According to The Hill (August 11, 2010), Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia stated on a morning radio talk show that Sarah Palin’s endorsement efforts were hurting the party: “…what she is doing is dividing the party at a time we don’t need to be divided…” he said. Palin had supported Karen Handel in the gubernatorial primary runoff election over Nathan Deal, a long-term conservative Congressman who was supported by Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. Although Palin is not considered a leader of the Tea Party movement, she identifies with it closely.
Will Palin and the Tea Party Impact the November Election?
Although, according to a recent MSNBC report, Palin has endorsed more males than females, Karen Handel was defeated in a close runoff, despite being one of the “commonsense conservative” Mama Grizzlies. Palin uses her Facebook site to endorse candidates and remind voters to go to the polls. But notoriety does not always guarantee success, as the results in Georgia demonstrate.
John Nichols, writing in The Nation (July 21, 2010), comments that Palin has a “penchant for advancing the prospects of conservative women whose candidacies are changing the ‘good-old-boy’ face of the party, particularly in the South.” Nichols compares her strategy to Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980 in terms of “establishing a network of connections.” In 2012, winning the South will be crucial to anyone seeking the presidency.
But the divide-and-conquer endorsement strategy could backfire in November. In Nevada, for example, Sharron Angle won the GOP primary race. Republicans would love to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Angle was not endorsed by Palin but received the support of the Tea Party. But Angle has made several eyebrow-raising statements such as her belief that abortion is unjustified even in cases of rape or incest as well as her most recent claim that the press “should ask the questions we want to answer.” (Washington Post, August 3, 2010)
Palin and the Tea Party after November
On August 9, 2010, much of the media was stirring over Palin’s conversation with an Alaskan schoolteacher. What was noteworthy in the exchange, however, was the teacher’s comments that Palin shrugged off her responsibilities as governor in favor of money. (Newsweek, August 10, 2010) Palin's personal income rose substantially after she quit the post of governor and launched a book signing signing tour.
Many observers speculate that Palin will not run in 2012 in order to pursue her personal goals, which include another book. Nevertheless, Palin’s network building would be an asset if she did decide to run. That decision could also rest on the effectiveness of the Tea Party in the November election. Rand Paul, for example, won the Kentucky primary with support from both Palin and the Tea Party.
But the Tea Party is not a third party nor is it a single-issue organization. Its members oppose federal bailouts, intrusive government, high taxes, and monolithic bureaucracy. The movement is a federation and not all Tea Party groups agree with each other, as was the case when one Tea Party group displayed an offensive billboard in Iowa in early July 2010 (Fox News, July 13, 2010).
Not all Republicans Joined the Tea Party Caucus
As of July 21, 2010, 33 representatives had joined Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus. This list, however, does not include some of the most conservative Republicans in the Congress such as Virginia Foxx and Howard Coble, both of North Carolina, and Minority Leader John Boehner. On July 19, 2010, Mayhill Fowler, writing in The Huffington Post, referred to a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party by the Tea Party movement. The observation goes to the essence of Rep. Kingston's comments on party division.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice stumbles upon the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse in the chapter, “A Mad Tea Party.” The three are seated at the end of a long table. “I didn’t know it was your table,” Alice remarked, “it’s laid out for a great many more than three.” This may be the reality of the November election for the various factions within the Republican Party.