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Wednesday, August 29,2012

Tea Party not connecting with mainstream

by Kyle Melinn

For all the noise Tea Party activists are making within the Republican Party these days, you’d think this hodge-podge collection of every spectrum of conservatism imaginable would be kicking butt at the ballot box.

It may be true in more Republican strongholds like Indiana and Texas and in smaller communities like Delhi Township, but it’s not happening in Michigan’s larger races.

Outside of the Republican Party apparatus itself and some local races, Tea Party candidates flopped spectacularly in the August primary.

Let’s start in the U.S. Senate race, where anti-gay activist Gary Glenn won the hearts of a band of 200-some Tea Party folks back in February, but ended up dropping out of the Republican primary a few weeks before Election Day when he couldn’t crack double digits in the polls.

Glenn asked his supporters to flock to the only other candidate with a ghost of a chance of defeating “establishment” candidate Pete Hoekstra — Clark Durant — who was promptly crushed.

In Southwest Michigan, Jack Hoogendyk, named Michigan’s most conservative state lawmaker one year, thought he’d give try again against U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, with the help of Tea Party activists.

Hoogendyk hoped that the same sentiment that swept Richard Murdock past U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana would spill over. He even spent a few days south of the border in hopes the Tea Party brotherhood would return the favor.

It didn’t happen. Instead, Hoogendyk rallied the same batch of tin-hatters and got smacked by almost a 2-to-1 margin. The whooping was markedly worse than the one he received in his ’10 primary against Upton when he allegedly didn’t have as much Tea Party support.

In the state legislature, the big talk about taking out the “RINOs,” “Republicans in Name Only,” yielded only one real credible challenge to an arguably moderate Republican incumbent — Rep. Wayne Schmidt in Traverse City.

The Tea Party candidate was Jason Gillman, author of the blog “Michigan Taxes Too Much.”

Gillman, despite being an elected Traverse City county commissioner, barely managed 35 percent against Schmidt.

So why is the Michigan Republican establishment so petrified of the Tea Party activists? 

Why is Ron Weiser, the former ambassador and chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, at risk of not winning his own party’s nomination for the University of Michigan Board of Regents?

It’s because Tea Party activists have nearly completely taken over the Michigan Republican Party. 

Most other Michiganders spend their nights and weekends working on their lawn, taking the kids to soccer or dance or catching up on life. Lathered-up Tea Party folks are flooding local and state Republican meetings and getting their people elected to key leadership posts.

Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, potentially the most accessible GOP activist of all time, didn’t stand a chance against super-conservative Dave Agema in this past May’s Republican National Committeeman race.

Two years prior, solidly conservative Republican Bill Schuette nearly didn’t win the nomination for attorney general and former Michigan State University Trustee Don Nugent failed to win his party’s nomination for re-election.

Their crimes? They were “establishment” and just not right enough.

The Tea Party spectrum is so diverse that’s it’s impossible to brand these folks with one specific ideology. Some are strictly focused on fiscal policy. Some rope national defense into the mix. Others blend in some social issues. Still others focus on fringe conspiratorial issues like Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Supporters of former presidential candidate Ron Paul are finding a home under this banner. This crew didn’t call it quits even though Mitt Romney rapped up the nomination in March.

They embroiled themselves into Republican Party minutia and managed six of Michigan’s 30 voting delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Of the 115 GOP delegates and alternates in Tampa this week, 21 are Paul supporters.

And the head of the Paul’s operations in Michigan, Adam de Angeli, told me the number of Paul supporters are growing, not shrinking.

Paul and Tea Party activists are taking advantage of this polarizing political atmosphere where the space for middle ground seems to be shrinking. 

The people who feel strong enough to spend any free time on politics are loudly espousing fringe positions that, in the long term, does damage to public policy.

Take Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent decision to abandon a bill to develop a state-run health care exchange. 

With the Republican-led House paralyzed by the fear of Tea Party repercussions for even touching “Obamacare,” Snyder is forced to give up a $9.8 million planning grant and surrender Michigan’s health care exchange to the federal government.

So much for helping Michigan’s own insurance industry, which benefits more from a local exchange.

The dynamic is putting rational Republicans in danger. Not only is it chasing them to the irrational right, the Tea Party is pushing the party further into the land of unelectability.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He’s at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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