GOP To Tea Partiers: So, Come Here Often?

February 16, 2010 5:40 a.m.

The Republican Party appears to be stepping up its efforts to capitalize on the grassroots energy of the Tea Party movement, with two of the GOP’s most prominent Washington leaders announcing plans to work with the Tea Partiers. But some Tea Party activists are less than happy about the news.

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, will meet today with a group of Tea Party leaders from around the country. And John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, will speak at a Tax Day event in April organized by the Orlando Tea Party, that group announced yesterday.The effort by to align the GOP with the Tea Party movement is not new. Last April, when tea partying was in its infancy, the RNC created a web page, still active today, that allows users to send a “virtual tea bag” — as well as a postcard with an anti-tax message — to Democratic leaders.

But the outreach bid seems to have kicked into high gear of late. Steele’s sitdown with the Tea Partiers, first reported by Politico, comes weeks after Sarah Palin, the party’s most recent vice presidential nominee, made a bid to be the de facto leader of the movement with a speech at a national Tea Party convention.

Regarding today’s meeting, Steele told TPM in a statement:

The Republican Party has always been a grassroots party and I respect the healthy debate that is going on in the states. It is extremely important to find common ground and fight together for smaller government, lower taxes and free enterprise. As Chairman I will continue to listen and work with the tea party movement to elect officials that represent these principles.

Karin Hoffman, the South Florida Tea Party leader who organized the meeting, told Politico that the confab doesn’t mean compromising the movement’s independence. “It is not a melding” Hoffman said. “It is not an effort to absorb it. We’re still maintaining our autonomy. It’s just a discussion — and that’s what the grass-roots has wanted to have from the beginning.”

But some Florida Tea Partiers are questioning that strategy — and Hoffman’s credentials as a leader. Everett Wilkinson, another South Florida Tea Party activist, told TPMmuckraker in an email: “It is our belief that the political parties are a major reason why America is broke and heading toward bankruptcy.” Wilkinson accused Hoffman of falsely representing herself as South Florida Tea Party leader.

As for Boehner, he’ll be joined at the Tax Day event by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the far-right lawmaker who spoke in November at the Tea Party infused rally on the steps of the Capitol organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The GOP House leader recently told conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, who will also appear at the Orlando event: “There really is no difference between what Republicans believe in and what the tea party activists believe in.”

But not all Tea Partiers see things that way. In an email to TPMmuckraker, Robin Stublen, another Florida-based Tea Party activist who has argued previously against working with the GOP, warned of “a back door attempt by the RNC to put their ‘stamp’ on the movement that welcomes all conservatives regardless of political party.”

That’s not the only ongoing sign of rancor within the famously fractious movement. In announcing the event in a press release, the Orlando Tea Party wrote:

NOTE: We are NOT affiliated nor believe in the tactics of the so-called Florida Tea Party political party. We represent the tea party movement, made up of every-day citizens getting involved in the political process to take our country back and return it to our founding principles.

That’s a reference to the Tea Party of Florida, a political party created and registered by an Orlando-based GOP political consultant and his partner — an effort that several Florida Tea Party activists have denounced.

Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni

Late Update: The dissent within Tea Party circles over the meeting is getting louder.

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