Tea Partiers have a tough decision to make this weekend. When they gather in Marshfield, the Wisconsin Tea Partiers must decide not whom to endorse, but instead whether to endorse a candidate for upcoming elections. Though I think I have a pretty clear idea of what they should do, but within the movement itself there are mixed feelings over this issue.
“I think that there are a lot of people in the coalition who would like to take the next step in terms of the political process,” said Kirsten Lombard, head of the Wisconsin 9-12 Project, a Madison tea party. “But I think there are a number of people who feel like the minute you endorse someone, you lose power in certain ways.”
Endorsing a candidate would not only cost the Tea Party power, but it would also harm their credibility. And this is something the party needs to show that it has. Many of their events have had their ups and downs. Though great passion can certainly be attributed to their movements, other, less classy displays have often occurred simultaneously. Additionally, small but news-making groups of their members have delivered rhetoric that has been radical enough to be off-putting to moderates and has allowed those further left of the aisle to dismiss the entire movement without serious consideration.
Whether or not the Republican Party stands to benefit from a Tea Party endorsement is a separate issue. What the Tea Party needs most, though, is to retain their autonomy. They are a political group that formed because of agreement on a few core values, not a complete agenda for every issue in politics, and a disdain for government as usual. Siding with any part of that “as usual” complex has the potential to paint them as hypocritical, undedicated, or desperate.
I understand that many in the Tea Party may feel that by endorsing a political candidate, their movement may be seen as legitimate and official. But they need to take a moment to explore that sentiment. Endorsing someone would just be a cheap route to prominence. In truth, anyone can endorse. Individuals and organizations of varying degrees of noteworthiness can and have tied their names to their political favorites. Then, on pain of their own reputation, they are under a far greater obligation to support every move the person makes.
It is certainly not the case that the Tea Party would not benefit from attaching their name to someone popular enough to advertise their cause. But as a young movement, their greater gains would come from establishing themselves as an organization that is steady enough to become a lasting force in politics. Such legitimacy does not simply come from a prominent public face. It comes from having a set of core values that are not merely talked about, they are also continuously and visibly upheld through the actions of the party. In a word – integrity.