Tea Party Crashing Establishment CPAC To Hang With ‘Fellow Conservatives’

The Conservative Political Action Committee is the most establishment of all the gatherings on the right, but the tea partiers will be in on the action.

When CPAC kicks off tomorrow in Washington, members of the tea party movement will be on hand. They are sort of strange bedfellows, since tea party members insist they aren’t about the Republican party and CPAC is viewed as the marquis event for the GOP and its potential presidential candidates. As we’ve been writing, Republicans across the country have been trying to harness the tea party energy for their own races as anti-establishment sentiment sweeps the nation in the leadup to the midterm elections.

There are plenty of divisions from within the tea party umbrella as well – a split between groups like the Tea Party Nation which charged $549 for its recent convention and citizens who say the last thing they want is to be an official third party.

Despite these fissures, top officials with tea party groups will speak and the documentary about the Tea Party will be on hand. Rapper Hi-Caliber, who stars in Tea Party material, even plans to perform.The Tea Pary Express, founded by GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh, is hosting a “mini-rally” Friday night at CPAC. The Tea Party Express has coordinated several major events with Republican Dick Armey’s group FreedomWorks. Armey also will speak at CPAC.

“This is the only conference that’s specifically branding itself conservative, there are going to be a lot of our friends there,” Levi Russell, a spokesman for the group, told TPMDC.

He said tea party “patriots” from across the country will be attending and that the groups aren’t worried the event is too establishment.

“We’ll have a great time at CPAC with fellow conservatives,” he said.

There are several tea party events on the CPAC agenda, including a discussion called “Saving Freedom One Patriot at a Time,” starring Ginni Thomas of LibertyCentral.org, Dana Loesch of St. Louis Tea Party, John O’Hara, author of A New American Tea Party and Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots.

Colin Hanna is hosting a “REAL Tea Party & Book Launch” on Friday, and that night a CPAC film festival will show the 90-minute Tea Party documentary.

(TPM’s Rachel Slajda watched that last year so you don’t have to.)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele huddled with some leaders from the tea party movement (while others weren’t involved) for several hours yesterday, attempting to show them he wants to cooperate with the movement, not absorb it.

CNN reports:

Indeed, when a group of participants were asked after the meeting if they consider themselves Republicans, nearly all shook their heads and boasted that they were “American citizens.” Others said they knew of fellow Tea Party activists who refused to come to the meeting because they do not trust the Republican leadership.

Steele, however, won over many in the group when he pledged that the Republican Party will not to meddle in local races – especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists. At one point in the meeting, the divisive Senate primary battle in Florida between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist was mentioned. The chairman said the role of the national party is to back whoever becomes the Republican nominee.

“He is leaving it up to the people, and that’s what we want,” said Cheryl Couture, a member of the 9.12 Project from Naples, Florida. “We don’t want people interfering with the process, because that’s not American.”

Further exposing the split today is a group of conservatives – many who will attend CPAC – signing a “manifesto” today at Mt. Vernon.

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said on Fox News this morning, “I think over the years the conservative movement has become too aligned with the Republican Party.”

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that FreedomWorks organized the Tea Party Express. TPE was founded by GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh.