From the beginning of the Tea Party movement, there was a palpable sense among activists that the Republican establishment, entrenched interest groups, or some oligarchy of Beltway dons would somehow take the whole thing over.
Since early 2009, a few big, national Tea Party organizations have arisen, and most of them don't actually get along, often springing from indictments of grassroots credibility. Suspicion runs rampant.
Tea Party Patriots, the largest national Tea Party membership organization, has beaten the drum of grassroots independence harder than anyone, calling out other national groups; Tea Party Nation has taken criticism for its for-profit status and the price tickets to the National Tea Party Convention; Tea Party Express has taken its shots because GOP consultant Sal Russo runs it; FreedomWorks, based in DC and led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, has mostly abstained from criticizing other groups but seems to have chosen its working partners with care, wary not to be seen as establishment usurpers.
One prominent Tea Party activist, Judson Phillips--who founded and runs Tea Party Nation--says this trend of large, national groups is nothing to be afraid of. Big Tea, as he calls it, is a natural progression for the movement and should be embraced.
Tea Party Nation e-mailed the following message from Phillips (truncated, with a linked extension) to the group's national membership list today:
In February 2009, the Tea Party movement emerged and sprang into the American mainstream. Eighteen months later, the movement is no longer recognizable as the same movement that exploded in the early days of the Obama Regime.
In February 2009, people emerged to express their anger with out of control spending and the expansion of government at the expense of freedom. The change people voted for in November, 2008 was not a vote for socialism.
From those early days, rallies were held all over the country. Groups, both large and small were created overnight to support the Tea Party message. From DC, the establishment and beltway groups looked, not quite sure what to make of this expression of the people's anger.
Fast-forward eighteen months. The rallies and small groups of 2009 are mostly gone. Some still exist. Very few rallies are being held.
We have instead, seen the rise of Big Tea.
In the last eighteen months, we have seen the rise of national organizations. Tea Party Nation is one. Tea Party Nation started out of the local Tea Party rallies in Nashville, to become one of the largest and most influential Tea Party websites in the country. Tea Party Patriots has chapters all over the country. Tea Party Express has become, one of the biggest examples of Big Tea.
Tea Party Express, as everyone knows, is the amazing successful PAC that is run by Sal Russo and Joe Wierzbicki. It is safe to say, if it were not for Tea Party Express, Lisa Murkowski would be headed back to the Senate and Mike Castle might be going there, instead of two solid conservatives. Sharron Angle may beat Harry Reid and if she does, she will have Tea Party Express to thank for that.
From the beltway, Freedomworks has decided they want to be the main players in the Tea Party movement. Though, they have had several well attended events in DC, many of the rank and file Tea Party members remain suspicious of the group, it's DC connections and ultimately it's motives.
No discussion of Big Tea is complete without discussing the two superstars of the Big Tea movement: Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Hardly a day goes by, when there is not a mention of those two and the Tea Party movement in the same breath. Though neither was there at the beginning, Beck did help host the Tax Day, 2009 protest in San Antonio, TX, which was probably the largest of the day. Palin had her coming out speech at the National Tea Party convention in February and has soared since then.
For many of the grass roots activists who started this movement eighteen months ago, myself included, may look and ask the question, "Dude, where's my movement?" There is no question the movement has changed. The evolution of Big Tea is the logical result of where this movement must go.
In the end, those of us who are in this movement are here for one reason. We want to see the tide of liberalism rolled back. Big Tea, along with the grassroots activists is the formula that will make that happen. It is making that happen. And as Ronald Reagan once said, "You can't argue with success."