Yesterday's Tax Day Tea Party rally at the Minnesota State Capitol helped to put some perspective on the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, a little over a year after Rick Santelli's famous rant on CNBC put "Tea Party" into the twenty-first century political vernacular.
In a remarkably tone-deaf speech, Lt. Col. Joe Repya said that the Tea Party movement must become a permanent political party, or face irrelevance, "like Ron Paul" supporters. Apparently Repya failed to notice or chose to ignore the Ron Paul supporters in the audience, including one holding a large "RON PAUL WAS RIGHT" sign behind the lecturn. To the shout of a few "boos" from Ron Paul supporters and non-supporters alike, with a just few words Repya may have sealed his own irrelevance within the Tea Party movement.
Not only is the Tea Party movement not a political party in the traditional sense, its members are generally against the idea of it ever becoming one. Leaders at yesterday's rally in Saint Paul stated that they will not endorse any candidates, although one of the headline speeches was delivered (via telephone from Washington, D.C.) by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN6), and representatives from various campaigns, including those from Republican gubernatorial endorsement candidate Tom Emmer, were present. Emmer's chief rival, Marty Seifert, appeared at the Rochester Tea Party rally.
The rally itself experienced some of the planners' rookie logistical mistakes, after a stellar opening act featuring our fellow bloggers and Northern Alliance Radio Network personality Mitch Berg and HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey, local entrepreneur and speaker Katie Kieffer, and Bachmann. (Rally organizer Toni Backdahl acknowledged wearily, "I learned a few things.")
The Tea Party movement is not at its core about winning elections. That is the function of political parties. As radio talk show host Jason Lewis has explained, many conservatives are disillusioned with supporting politicians and parties with the initials GOP who, once elected, seemingly abandon core principles (fiscal responsibility, limited government, low taxation) in favor of political expediency (some would say "necessity.") Governing is certainly more difficult than campaigning. While avoiding political party status, the Tea Party also avoids having any incumbents and their baggage of voting records and political history.
Many members of the decentralized, amorphous Tea Party movement will choose to channel their energies to working within a traditional political party, support like-minded candidates, influence the public dialog, and move public policy back to the center right for many years to come — while at the same time thinking of themselves as outsiders and enjoying the freedoms of that status. They may sometimes seem a bit disorganized, but like the ragtag revolutionaries of 1776, the modern-day Tea Partiers may someday win against the odds.