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“Tea Party Turns On ‘Megalomaniac Strongman’ Donald Trump”: A Bridge Too Far For Tea Party Members In Congress

The Tea Party’s infatuation with Donald Trump may be over.

Now, “may” is the operative word, since rumors of Trump’s demise, as you might have noticed, have been a touch overstated. But the Republican presidential frontrunner’s recent call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration has put him at odds with some of the most conservative people on the right—including congressional Tea Party darlings.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Tea Party favorite who won support from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz in his Republican primary campaign in Nebraska, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to criticize the mogul.

“Monday night was a flood,” Sasse said, referring to Trump’s bombastic campaign-rally speech about Muslim immigration. “Neither are what our people need or really what they, at their best, want.”

Though the senator didn’t mention Trump by name, the allusion was clear as day.

Sasse then proceeded to characterize the mogul in extraordinarily harsh terms while blaming President Obama and other Washington insiders for Trump’s support.

“The people who are supposed to be laser-focused on defending the American people—that is us—mouth silly platitudes that show we’re either too weak or too confused to keep our people safe,” he said. “Then a megalomaniac strongman steps forward, and he starts screaming about travel bans and deportation, and offering promises to keep all of us safe, which to some and I think actually to many more than those of us in this body seem to understand, to some will sound much better than not being protected at all.”

Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a shocking primary upset due in large part to his tough-on-undocumented-immigration stance, also criticized Trump’s approach.

“You gotta be very careful on lines of thought when you’re conveying these lines to the media,” Brat said. “The right way to go is just to talk about overseas threats, and quantifying those based on what’s in the best interests of American citizens.”

Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican who won his seat in the 2010 Tea Party wave, shared those concerns in a press release that criticized the mogul’s stance as a religious freedom problem.

“Singling out any faith community for the actions of extremists is not conservative, it is hostile to our founding,” Hultgren said.

Off the Hill, other movement conservative firebrands were distressed by Trump’s call for a religious test.

“I think that calling for a religious test is contrary to our founding principles and that our Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves right now,” said Penny Nance, who heads Concerned Women for America.

She added that Trump’s decision to single out Muslims for extra scrutiny undermines the principles of religious freedom that protect other religious minorities—a category that includes, in her opinion, evangelical Christians.

“I think in our society that evangelical Christians are viewed less and less favorably, and we should be very concerned,” Nance said. “It begins a slippery slope that eventually ensnares all of us.”

In the wake of Kim Davis’s arrest and legal targeting of conservative Christian bakers and florists who refused to serve gay couples’ weddings, evangelical Christians—including Nance—have increasingly focused on religious freedom issues. She wasn’t the only conservative to argue that singling out Muslims could result in similar discriminatory treatment of Christians.

Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, also said the real estate baron’s stance is incompatible with the Constitution.

“A religious qualification is unfitting,” he said. “It kind of flies in the face of the founding principles of the government.”

“Our public policy focus should be on ensuring security and preventing those wanting to do us harm from entering our country, not just haphazardly creating religious barriers,” he added.

That said, it remains to be seen if Trump supporters will share Tea Party leaders’ views of their idol.

Billie Tucker, who co-founded the First Coast Tea Party in Florida, said Trump’s foes shouldn’t hold their breath.

“People are very excited to hear somebody speaking out—things that they’ve been thinking and no one will say,” she said. “He is saying a lot of stuff that people think.”

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, December 9, 2015

December 10, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Religious Freedom, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Reverse Mortgage Industry Of Politics”: How The Tea Party Became As Corrupt As The Beltway It Loathes

This week, ProPublica released a report on the financial (and moral) corruption of a Tea Party group operating under the name Move America Forward, which was founded by one Sal Russo. Russo also helped start the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, aka the Tea Party Express. Move America Forward has run fake drives to give care packages to troops, stolen images of other charitable campaigns and passed them off as its own, and trumpeted a nonexistent partnership with Walter Reed Hospital — all while funneling very real millions to itself. The group is an industry leader at taking your Tea Party sentiments (if you have them) and turning them into profits.

Unfortunately, the continuing success of Sal Russo and the Tea Party Express is emblematic of a larger failure of the American right — and perhaps the larger project of American self-governance.

Earlier this year, The Daily Caller‘s Alexis Levinson reported that other Tea Party groups that had raised millions spent up to 80 percent of their money on operating expenditures, salaries, consultants, and mailing list companies, which were often owned by the people who ran the groups themselves. The Tea Party is essentially a landlord class; its fiefdom is the truly felt convictions of others.

There is nothing new about this. The Tea Party gained traction in an environment defined by massive resentment and fear directed at the Obama presidency, disgust at the bailouts of the Bush and Obama eras, and the wreckage of a Republican electoral defeat, all of which was especially conducive to the growth of parasite groups like the Tea Party Express.

In February of 2010, I reported a story from a “Tea Party Convention” in Nashville, hosted by the for-profit group Tea Party Nation. Leader Juddson Phillips left his job as a lawyer to draw a salary. Tickets for this grassroots uprising cost more than $500. The great motive behind it was transforming the organizers into richer men and political kingmakers in their state.

This gross profiteering is not unique to right-wingers. Political consultants do hilariously weird things. John Weaver, a consultant who advises prominent Republican candidates to enact his own distaste for conservatives, pulled an all-timer when he convinced his candidate’s campaign to pay him, partly, through a corporation that shared the exact same name as that of another consultant’s business. That helped to hide how well he was doing — until it didn’t.

People who give themselves to full-time political activism deserve some recompense for their work and expertise. And of course, even the most populist of political movements will attract, and even require, professional leadership from without. After all, even punk rock bands require “the suits” to handle business and arrange for the to-be-destroyed hotel room. Even St. Paul demanded payment for his services.

But there was something especially galling about the level of self-dealing enrichment and deception at the head of the Tea Party movement, particularly because the movement started as a disgusted response to the self-dealing enrichment and deception in Washington.

Profiteering has been an acute problem almost right from the beginning for the Tea Party. It is like the reverse mortgage industry of politics: making money by giving an awful deal to an older, whiter customer base, then leaving town just as the fools realize it leaves them with nothing.

It’s easy to write them off as just another bunch of opportunists. But the endemic corruption of this movement should trouble the American right, if not the American conscience. The conservative diagnosis of Washington’s brokenness is that Americans have outsourced the task of self-government to a managerial class in Washington, a corruption that has transformed our nation’s capital into “the Beltway,” a shorthand for D.C.’s toxic culture of cronyism.

The populist right’s instinctive response — the Tea Party — immediately became just another added layer of cronyism. A grassroots corruption. Really, a weed. If the American people have outsourced their self-government to Washington, the conservative movement made another dirty deal, allowing itself to be entertained in outrage carnivals run by for-profit activists. Excepting the exceptions, the populist right’s response to dishonesty and graft was to generate another set of swindlers who wear flag-lapel pins, lie to their faces, and help themselves to the cash.

Yes, we built that. And H.L. Mencken laughs. Self-government is just another product, and no one can be bothered to read the fine print.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, Senior Correspondent, The Week, August 8, 2014

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Tea Party, Washington Beltway | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defeat Has A Thousand Fathers”: If A Majority Leader Loses And Everyone Hears It, Who Made The Sound?

If a towering incumbent falls in the forest and no national groups were around to push him, who deserves the credit? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning, historic defeat last night raises the question again of what exactly is the tea party. It’s fair to characterize Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat as a tea party candidate, but at the same time analysts, activists and lawmakers should remember that included in the universe of people who had no idea this was coming (excepting U.S. News’ Peter Roff) were the national groups that pass for the tea party movement’s establishment.

There’s a tendency to refer to the tea party movement as a homogenous, monolithic enterprise, but the fact remains that there is no “tea party.” Lest I be accused of trying to undercut the conservative insurgent movement, I will note that this is a point I made when “tea party” candidates were getting routed in the Texas and North Carolina senate primaries; movement obituaries should be tempered, I argued then, because the major tea party groups hadn’t shown up for those fights. They showed up in Kentucky in force and lost. They showed up in Mississippi and won. And I would make the same point about South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is a much more vocal immigration reform supporter than Cantor – cruised to an easy victory last night: Don’t draw too many conclusions from races where one or both sides in the fight declined to engage. “The tea party” isn’t dead because Lindsey Graham is alive any more than it is resurgent because Eric Cantor went down.

Which brings us back to the national groups, which were apparently as oblivious as the rest of us to what was happening in the Richmond area leading up to yesterday’s election.  The Washington Post’s Matea Gold made this point last night, noting that the major tea party groups spent a grand total of nothing on Brat’s behalf:

But it’s worth noting that many of the national tea party groups that have been the most pugilistic about this year’s intra-party fights have not invested much money into helping the candidates on the ground. As we reported earlier this year, organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project are spending huge sums on fundraising, salaries and consultants, while just putting a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they have raised into political expenditures.

The fact that Brat took off without the help of those organizations now makes it harder for them to claim his victory as their own.

And National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher made the same observation last night, including this damning anecdote about Jenny Beth Martin, the chief of the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots:

In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local tea-party activists who helped propel him over the top.”

Certainly the local tea party activists deserve some measure of congratulations. But what remains honestly unclear – whether you’re sympathetic to the GOP establishment or to the tea party insurgency – is what it means nationally. And what does that say about the national party movement and groups like Tea Party Patriots? Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo told National Journal’s Goldmacher that Cantor’s defeat was a sign of the movement’s strength: “They can strike anywhere. It’s not dependent on a top-down direction.” So where does that leave the top end of that equation? Leading from behind?

To flip the old JFK aphorism around, Eric Cantor’s defeat may have a thousand fathers (and mothers). Political observers would be wise to discern which ones are actually legitimate.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 11, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Incentivizing Harmful Behavior”: Sabotaging Obamacare Is A Lucrative Endeavor For Many Republicans

To gain steam for his initiative to tie funding of the government to defunding Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz appeared at events over the summer with the Tea Party Express, a political action committee. “Either continue funding the government without giving one more dime to Obamacare, or shut down the government,” demands Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer.

The Tea Party Express, in turn, has sponsored fundraising drives to help “elect more leaders like Ted Cruz.”

One problem for Cruz-acolytes hoping to make their way into office? The Tea Party Express PAC has spent nearly every dollar of the $2.1 million it has raised this year on campaign consultants and fundraising fees, but not a dime in transfers to candidates or on independent expenditures. In previous years, the PAC has funneled much of its proceeds to Russo Marsh and Rogers, a Republican consulting firm in Sacramento, California.

The frantic crusade to screw up the launch of the Affordable Care Act is a sad tale in American politics. If conservatives are successful, even with a short-term government shutdown Cruz and his House GOP allies might achieve, patients will suffer. If young people fail to sign up for health insurance—the stated goal of one Koch-backed front group now airing television advertisements—more will drown under crushing debt if they find themselves in need of serious medical care. But Washington, DC, has a bizarre way of incentivizing harmful behavior, and the sabotage Obamacare campaign is not without its winners.

A set of campaign consultants and insurance agents stand to profit from confusing Americans on the eve of the healthcare reform enrollment date.

The conservative media frenzy over the defunding debate has invigorated donors to many PACs, not just Tea Party Express. The Senate Conservative Fund PAC recorded its largest-ever fundraising hauls last month, though it spends way more on candidates and on candidate ads than the Tea Party Express. Still, the Jim DeMint–linked PAC expended nearly half its coffers on administrative, research and fundraising payments this year. FreedomWorks, the RNC and the Club for Growth have hopped on the Cruz campaign to raise funds by advocating the repeal of Obamacare. For a non-federal election year, at least these PACs are doing well.

The rigid anti–healthcare reform politics of the Koch brothers is also having a stimulative effect upon a small circle of Republican consultants. Americans for Prosperity, the largest Koch-owned front, pays the traditional 15 percent commission rate on all their television buys—the latest round going to Target Enterprises, a Sherman Oaks, California-based GOP media company. And with a seemingly endless appetite for anti-Obamacare paid media and anti-Obamacare grassroots organizers, Koch makes good on its claim of being a stellar job-creator, at least for jobs in right-wing political advocacy.

The New York Times rightfully notes in an editorial that many other conservative advocacy groups, like the National Liberty Federation, have latched onto the Obamacare fight, viewing the healthcare reform debate as little more than opportunity to raise a few bucks.

The second and less noticed benefactor of some of the more malicious attacks upon healthcare reform are health insurance brokers. Health insurance brokers make a living by selling health insurance and collecting a commission for every person or group they enroll. With healthcare reform set to provide easy access to health insurance options, free of charge, many in the health insurance agent industry view the Obamacare rollout as a death sentence. In recent months, the broker industry has mobilized to erect obstacles for the dozens of community group “navigators,” organizations tapped to spread the word about how to enroll in the exchanges.

In Georgia, under influence from health insurance agent lobbyists, the state passed a law that prohibits navigators from providing advice “concerning the benefits, terms, and features of a particular health benefit plan.” Other states have thrown up licensing laws in an effort to curtail navigators from being able to do, well, anything.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Nicholas Kusnetz has done some of the most interesting investigative reporting on this side of the story, revealing that the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Association of Health Underwriters have orchestrated a multi-pronged attack on Affordable Care Act navigators. The industry, which has secured anti-navigator laws in sixteen states, has poured some $7.5 million into state campaigns since 2010.

While brokers claim they seek only to ensure patients are not scammed by “unlicensed” navigators, in reality, blocking competition seems to be the primary motivation. Last month, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America released a statement endorsing an effort by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) to repeal all of the funding for the navigators programs. Notes from a lobbying association for insurance agents in California warned brokers before a visit to Sacramento: “If we don’t [lobby lawmakers] they will not think it will matter that much when they allow the unlicensed “navigators” to solicit your book of business!!”

Several community groups that had signed up to participate in the navigators program have now backed out, citing political pressure from Republican politicians. The House Oversight Committee, led by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Republican attorneys general have harassed several navigator groups with lengthy questionnaires and other demands.

Some anti–healthcare reform activists are truly motivated by their convictions. But others stand to gain financially from making sure their fellow Americans have problems signing up for health insurance.

 

By: Lee Fang, The Nation, September 25, 2013

September 26, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Terribly Bad, Good Idea”: Tea Party Group Drafting Sarah Palin To Run For Alaska Senate

“Do the words ‘Senator Sarah Palin’ excite you?”

That’s the opening line of a recent email by The Tea Party Leadership Fund, which is trying to draft the former Alaska governor and past Fox News commentator to run for the Senate in 2014. The fund argues Palin has a clear path to victory in part due to recent polling showing incumbent Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, with less than 50 percent of the vote.

But, it being a draft, the group hasn’t talked with Palin about whether or not she’s interested. And Palin – whose PAC didn’t respond to request for comment from Whispers – is believed to be currently residing in Arizona, not Alaska. The fund’s Niger Innis says the interest of Tea Party members in a Palin run, however, is clear.

“We didn’t know that [the draft] was going to catch fire to the degree that it has. And what that tells us is that this is just the beginning,” he says. “It’s gone viral.”

But not all Tea Party groups are enthused about drafting Palin without first gauging her interest.

“I absolutely love her and I think she’s a breath of fresh air,” Amy Kremer, head of Tea Party Express, tells Whispers. “But until she says that she’s going to put her name in… we’re not going to go out there and advocate for her to get in the race.”

Judson Phillips at Tea Party Nation says the 2012 presidential election provided an important lesson about why drafting candidates is a bad idea. “One of the things we learned is that apparently Mitt Romney didn’t really want to be president,” he said. “The last thing the GOP needs is to put candidates who don’t want it.”

 

By: Elizabeth Flock, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2013

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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