The Tea Party Movement, Tea Party Nation & Judson Phillips: A Round-Up

Well, this is the big weekend. I’m seeing tweets coming from the gathering. Nothing splashy yet–just lots of pictures of a very up-scale hotel.

Luke Obrien of AOLNews has a fascinating exposé on Phillips. Here’s a snippet:

Phillips’ big idea was a social network for conservatives. It would eventually be called Tea Party Nation. In Phillips’ mind, it could be bigger than Facebook. And it would be his. But he couldn’t build it on his own. Over the course of 2009, he cajoled others into volunteering hundreds of hours of their time to help. Most thought they were giving structure to the broader, inchoate movement.

The first sign that something was amiss was the donation box on the Tea Party Nation Web site. Smith says he felt uncomfortable linking the box directly to Sherry Phillips’ PayPal account, but that Judson assured him the arrangement was temporary. It wasn’t. More than $4,000 in donations came in while Smith was helping Phillips. “We don’t know what happened to it,” Smith says. “We still don’t know.”

Indeed, the Phillipses have refused to fully account for the money that continues to flow into their personal coffers. When Phillips registered Tea Party Nation as a for-profit company, Smith walked out. Other volunteers were alienated as well. But Phillips bulled forward, persuading a new crop to help him take Tea Party Nation to a bigger audience. “I thought he was very kind, a real sweet guy,” Kilmarx says. “Maybe that’s the charm of a viper.”

As Phillips jockeyed for supremacy in the Tea Party movement in Tennessee, he undermined people he saw as rivals and lashed out at those who challenged his decisions, most notably through the forums of the Tea Party Nation Web site. Phillips deleted posts when people disagreed with him over candidate picks. He banned people when they questioned the direction he was taking the organization. The more outspoken dissenters received bilious e-mails threatening legal action.

More here.

For Sarah Palin’s part, Andrew Malcolm believes she’s forging her own, new political path. Palin explains her reasons for going to the Tea Party Convention here.

Sarah Palin will also be at other events. I’m going to be reporting from the Perry-Palin gathering here in Houston, February 7 (for free, I might add).

And what of the Tea Party movement, generally? Can it get its act together? Does it need to? From Newsweek:

Though tea-party activists still tend to look askance at political professionals and the Republican Party as an institution, such veterans have provided strategic leadership, even on the grassroots level. In a movement that prides itself for being “leaderless,” groups like the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition have drafted 28 local activists to form a “national leadership team” to sift through the noise. The group is spearheaded by Michael Patrick Leahy, a former delegate to the Republican Convention who had last agitated to elect Romney in 2008.

The group’s habitual conference calls, however, have produced neither a set of Republican talking points nor a singular national agenda, but rather an opportunity for certain messages and calls to action to become amplified on a larger scale. “We have a healthy distrust of political folks, whether they’re Republican or not–we tend to trust fellow tea-party organizers,” says Hennessy. “It’s like neighbors talking over a fence.”

The Tea Party movement is evolving. Some parts are more productive. In fact, many groups growing out of the movement aren’t using the “Tea Party” name, but infusing new political activism with Tea Party ideals.

Some groups are doing great works in the Tea Party name.

And some groups exploit the whole idea for personal gain.

This outcome is really kinda predictable. There are bad actors, good actors who are stupid, and then there are good actors who manage to lead with inclusion.

Tea Party people aren’t thrilled with overlords and some Tea Party self-proclaimed leaders are notoriously tyrannical–something they vehemently oppose in their own leaders. This irony is not lost on their followers.

In this movement, though, there are some very good fruits being borne of the energy and ideals of the people. Very talented folks who had remained anonymous and behind-the-scenes are getting involved and contributing.

The Tea Party energy is classically different than the Obama enthusiasm. Tea Partiers are less personality-driven and more policy-driven.

They are looking for people to reflect their values rather than a person on whom they can project their values. They have also shown themselves to be pragmatic. Many of these people are the people contributing to a New England Republican like Scott Brown. People know he’ll be better than Ted Kennedy or Martha Coakley. That’s obvious.

But there are limitations, too, but this sort of thing takes time to experience. There are many opinions and no one voice is going to represent such a diverse group of people.

The liberals and media would like to paint the movement with a broad brush, but that’s just not possible.

The Tea Parties are just getting started. It’s only been one year. A year ago, politicians and pundits alike scoffed at the whole notion. No one is laughing now.

The movement may have hiccups as it grows, but it is a big mistake to underestimate its power to change the political scene. And that’s a very good thing.

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