Rise of the Florida Tea Party Challenges Republicans
The party, which registered in August, is chaired by Frederic B. O’Neal, a self-described “Reagan Democrat” who recently changed his party registration from Democrat to Tea Party in order to become the chair.
O’Neal is a Windermere, Florida attorney who presently represents the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group wanting a “Confederate Heritage” specialty license plate that features the Confederate flag. That proposal died in legislative committee — apparently because the lawmakers thought it was too politically incorrect to deal with — and O’Neal has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Veterans against members of the legislative committee and against the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). A federal judge has dismissed the portion of the suit against the legislators on the basis of legislative immunity but left the portion against the DHSMV standing. O’Neal is more widely known for his representation of high-profile tax protesters such as political consultant and radio talk show host Doug Guetzloe.
The “TEA” in Tea “Party” is an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already,” although the new party has an agenda that is broader than mere tax reform and at election time will be targeting those state senators who supported SunRail and supporting politicians who opposed it such as Paula Dockery in her campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. There has also been some media speculation that Marco Rubio might jump to the Tea Party if he fails to win the Republican Party nomination for U.S. Senate, but Republican insiders think that unlikely. That may become more likely, however, if the Tea Party movement grows in strength to a point where it can have a statistical impact on election results.
The “Tea Party” movement is as much about anger, frustration and dissastisfaction with the GOP as it is about rampant socialism under Obama and the Democrats. While the focus of the Tea Party activists has been against the tax-and-spend policies of Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress, its activities represent a broad rebellion against the current leadership of the Republican Party at local, state, and national levels. Nationally, there is a bitter aftertaste over the Party’s nomination of a weak moderate, John McCain, to be President and the perceived failure of the Party’s leadership to accept and protect vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In Florida, there is anger at corruption among Party leaders and the heavy-handed ways of the current Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Jim Greer. There also is dismay that Party leaders have rallied behind Charlie Crist — a man who stands for nothing of principle — in the race for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. And there is popular support for this rebellion: The Tea Party tops the GOP in a three-way generic ballot, according to the results of a recent poll by Rasmussen.
Does the formation of the Tea Party herald the doom of the GOP? Lefties such as blogger Adele Stan may hope so, but the extent of the damage the Tea Party inflicts on the GOP remains to be seen. What is clear is that most American voters tend to be politically conservative and that the Tea Party will draw votes away from Republican candidates, thereby splitting the vote Republicans would otherwise get and increasing the odds of Democrat victory in a three-way race. This means that the Tea Party will be running against, and trying to replace, the Republican Party in the next election and that unless the Republican Party can get disaffected voters back in the fold, the great potential of Republican victories in 2010 will be lost.
Nationally, Republicans are increasingly viewing the Tea Partiers as an obstacle to victory and are not making any sustained efforts at rapprochement. Open warfare has not erupted, but the fissures are apparent. In Florida, the Republican Party reaction to the formation of a political party that has the potential of splitting conservative votes in Florida has been sharply critical, but mostly localized and woefully ineffective. Sheela Venero, in a November 12th article appearing in the Broward County Young Republican Examiner, suggests the Tea Party is a scam and finds it significant that O’Neal made a $500 contribution to the Democrat National Committee 17 years ago. Attacking the messenger and not the message is not very effective in most situations, but saying nothing may be worse. So far, the statewide leaders of the Republican Party have been mostly mute about this issue, but that is not likely to continue as poll numbers come in showing an increasing drift of conservative voters away from the GOP and towards the Tea Party.
Americans everywhere are frightened by mountains of debt being heaped upon them, their children, and their children’s children. They do not have confidence in Barack Obama or the Democrats in Congress. They want a voice that offers solutions to the present crisis, and not an echo of past accomplishments. The RPOF offers little more than an echo, while the organizers of the Tea Party movement in Florida are offering a voice on at least some issues, presenting a stark choice to many conservatives. A third party will not help the cause of conservatism in Florida, but neither will a Republican Party without a voice or message that resonates with the voters.
The RPOF can, however, significantly improve its credibility with voters and long-term viability as a political party by (1) removing from its upper ranks the dishonest, the unscrupulous and the opportunistic, (2) embracing constitutionalism and the rule of law (which current GOP leaders never talk about), and (3) take a hard right turn on the main economic issues of the next election. The RPOF also needs shed its closed-shop image among Republicans, cultivate leadership among its followers, and support those leaders in their campaigns for elected office.
It is up to the conservatives to make these changes happen, for no other faction within the Party can or will. And if the conservatives fail, disaffected constituents who are frightened by what the Democrats are doing to this country will abandon the Republican Party and go their own way. It would be perhaps Darwinian justice for a Republican Party that has lost its way and refuses to even acknowledge such that it go the way of other political dinosaurs our society has known in the past. I hope that GOP extinction does not come to pass, for I fear that the peril to American society will only increase and individual liberty soon will be reduced to a relic of history. It is, however, the ultimate responsibility of the Republican Party to ensure its own survival.