Tea Party’s First Birthday Highlights Divisions In Movement

March 1, 2010 9:25 a.m.

The tea party movement officially turned one over the weekend, drawing various celebrations, laudatory statements from Republican leadership and boastful emails about all the group has accomplished since 2009. But even those anniversary milestones highlight deep factions within the movement and how Republicans are bending over backwards to be associated with the tea partiers.

For example, the Tea Party Express organizers cited several odd accomplishments, including a political race that ended up with a Democratic victory and a Senator’s retirement that had nothing to do with the tea party at all.In an email this weekend wishing a happy birthday to “Fellow Tea Party Activists,” the Tea Party Express boasted members should “look how far we’ve come in just one year!” The movement kicked off Feb. 27 with a series of rallies following CNBC’s rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange using the “tea party” term.

They take credit for the stalled health care bill, saying that President Obama and Democratic leaders have been “forced to walk away sheepishly with their tail between their legs for each failure to advance their push towards socialized medicine.” They also say they stopped Congress from passing a cap-and-trade plan in the climate bill.

The Tea Party Express says the group forced Van Jones to resign, plotted the massive townhall freakout in August, organized big rallies, and contributed to the November GOP wins in New Jersey and Virginia.

But here’s where it gets strange. The Tea Party Express cites a “victory over the Republican political establishment that nominated a liberal, big-government “RINO” (Republican In Name Only), Dede Scozzafava for Congress in the NY-23 Special Election.” The note mentions in passing that conservative candidate Doug Hoffman “nearly beat” his rival, but did not admit that Bill Owens’ win was the first for Democrats in that district in more than a century.

Tea Party Express also claimed credit for the “forced resignations” of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) thanks to being “under fire from the tea party movement.” The tea party had little if anything to do with the decisions of both senators to opt against reelection – neither resigned.

The Tea Party Express lists Sen. Scott Brown’s January victory in Massachusetts, but the Tea Party Nation group isn’t so thrilled with the Republican freshman. In the TPN Newsletter, organizers complain about Brown’s support for the jobs bill, writing: “Many conservative supporters feel betrayed by what they realize now is a moderate Republican, not the conservative they wished for.”

The group also said RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s 4-hour meeting with tea party activists shows the power of citizen activism, but top tea party officials called that summit an attempt at hijacking the movement.

Tea Party Express explained away the divisions in its birthday email:

We all have different styles, different strategies and different approaches. And we’re going to disagree with one another in this movement at times. That’s all good! Those who fear this tea party movement – and what it might mean to their own hold on power or how it might threaten their own more liberal ideological movements – will try to exploit our differences at times. But what our critics fail to understand is that try however hard they might, they will never be able to silence the growing majority in this country who recognize that our country is off-track, and that we’ve lost our ways from the American ideals that our great nation was founded on.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement marking the tea party anniversary, saying this weekend the movement has reminded lawmakers the American people are the ones really in charge of the country.

“It’s not enough, however, for Republicans to simply voice respect for what the tea partiers are doing, praise their efforts, and participate in their rallies. Republicans must listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them,” Boehner wrote.

Yet at the same time some tea partiers warn that “fringe” groups are harming the disparate movement.

Tea Party Nation Convention organizer Judson Phillips of Nashville told Politico that local tea party leaders should “control the message and … prevent the tea party movement from being hijacked.”

Additional reporting by Zachary Roth

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