The first-ever Tea Party convention kicks off today at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and, when it closes with a banquet on Saturday night, Sarah Palin will take the stage as the event's only marquee speaker--and opinions vary on whether it's a good or bad move, politically, for her to be there.
The convention has been fraught with criticism from segments of the Tea Party movement--activists who protest the $549 ticket prices and the for-profit status of the group that's putting it on as a sign that it's not truly "grassroots"--and Palin's appearance has driven some of that criticism. She's rumored to be getting $100,000 for her keynote speech (her going rate, according to documents obtained by Politico), and the big bucks have turned off some Tea Party activists who don't want to be associated with the convention, which is being put on by the group Tea Party Nation.
Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) were scheduled to speak but dropped off the list (convention organizers say it was because of conflicting information from the House ethics committee), leaving Palin as the only conservative star in attendance.
Now, some of those activists who have criticized the convention say
Palin could be making a mistake in appearing there: it may cost her some
support among the conservative grassroots, they suggest, and opinions
conflict on whether Palin's speech is a mistake or a boon to the movement.
"We're getting massive grassroots input that they're unhappy with what she's doing right now," said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the group Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots coordinating group with state and local chapters, which seeks to communicate with smaller independent groups across the nation. Martin's group claims to have 15 million members nationwide, and Martin says it rejected an invitation to be part of the convention.
One of those unhappy activists is Robin Stublen, 53, of Punta Gorda, Florida, who owns a grass maintenance and pest control business and runs the Punta Gorda Tea Party. Stublen says he had been active in local politics for years before the Tea Parties came about and was drawn to the movement by the now-infamous rant of CNBC's Rick Santelli and the protests across the country on Feb. 27 last year.
"She's got some problems, and I don't think she realizes the problems," Stublen said of Palin's involvement with the Nashville convention. "It's a shame, because I don't think she knows what she's gotten herself into."
"This has nothing to do with the grassroots movement--nothing," Stublen said of the convention, citing its ticket prices. Stublen said a lot of the people attending are probably "grassroots people that have saved up...thinking it was something other than it was." He says he likes Palin, though he hasn't made up his mind on her as a 2012 candidate. ("I like her...I just find her to be a very nice person," Stublen said.)
Stublen also criticized Palin's involvement with Tea Party Express--whose 2010 kickoff event Palin will attend on March 27 in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) hometown of Searchlight, Nevada--a nationwide Tea Party bus tour that has been criticized by some of the same Tea Partiers who don't like the convention. Stublen's allegation: that it's not truly grassroots, but rather a GOP-affiliated AstroTurf operation.