Why Tea Party Groups Should Not Endorse Candidates

Yesterday “Acmaurerco” argued at the People’s Press Collective that “Tea Party organizations should make endorsements.” He is wrong. (I don’t know who is “Acmaurerco,” but I’ll refer to the party as “AC” with masculine pronouns.)

Notably, AC completely fails to respond to my previous arguments against Tea Party endorsements. Here I will review and expand them.

Was the Tea Party leadership unanimously elected by the members of the respective organizations? The obvious answer is no. I know of no case in which a Tea Party group even maintains an official membership roster. I do not know how Tea Party leaders came to their roles, but I suspect it was through the voting of a relatively small portion of the regional Tea Party movement.

Did the Tea Party leadership gain the consent of every Tea Party member to speak on behalf of every Tea Party member in matters of politics? Again, the obvious answer is no. I am quite confident that many different self-proclaimed Tea Partiers support Ken Buck, Jane Norton, Scott McInnis, and Dan Maes (the four major Republican candidates running in Colorado for U.S. Senate and governor).

So my first basic argument is that it is immoral and deceitful to claim to speak for others without their consent, and that is exactly what happens when proclaimed leaders of the Tea Party groups endorse some particular candidate on behalf of the group. I do not believe that Tea Party leaders ultimately advance their ideas or their movement by acting immorally and deceitfully. Instead, what they do is alienate not only many current and potential Tea Partiers but much of the public.

Many Americans are hungry for the ideas of liberty, not the same old petty and unprincipled party squabbling.

My second basic argument is this: there is no principled candidate in any of the large races in Colorado. Many Tea Partiers favor Maes over McInnis. But the simple fact is that both Maes and McInnis are unprincipled, pragmatic populists. Consider, for example, Maes’s flip-flopping on guns and abortion. What, then, has been the basis for Tea Party endorsements? Generally those endorsements are rooted in anti-establishment sentiments, not in any careful comparison of how fully the candidates endorse liberty.

The subsidiary problem is that the Tea Parties hardly advocate a consistent ideology supportive of liberty. Instead, the Tea Parties advocate a mish-mash of free markets with statist controls and welfare transfers. To take but two examples, consider how many Tea Partiers advocate economic protectionism regarding immigration policy, or how many (including Rand Paul) endorse police-state abortion controls. Operating from such an ideological hash, Tea Party leaders cannot help but to endorse candidates based on superficial traits.

Let us, then, consider AC’s arguments for why Tea Party leaders should endorse candidates. AC claims that the Tea Party movement is “more like an interest group or a civic group” like the “Elks or Moose, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Rotary Club, the VFW, the NRA.” I don’t think the Elks, the Boy Scouts, or the VFW endorse candidates for political office. The only group in that list that I think endorses candidates is the National Rifle Association. To take a comparable example, here in Colorado Rocky Mountain Gun Owners endorses candidates.

But let us consider the important differences between the Tea Party movement and the NRA and RMGO. The basic way one becomes an active member of the NRA or of RMGO is to pay those organizations an annual fee. Obviously that is not remotely how Tea Party groups work. Instead, basically if you say “I’m a Tea Partier,” you’re a part of the group. Moreover, when RMGO endorses a candidate, it is abundantly obvious that RMGO is not claiming to speak for every gun owner in Colorado or even every paid member of RMGO. Instead, an RMGO endorsement obviously means, “I, Dudley Brown, founder of RMGO, prefer candidate X over candidate Y, and I am prepared to spend some portion of my group’s resources promoting my favored candidate among those who I think will respond positively to such promotion.” If you disagree, you are free to withhold your funds from RMGO and declare your disagreement.

In the amorphous Tea Party movement, it is simply impossible to so distinguish the voices of the proclaimed leaders from the voices of the members, if the leaders claim to speak for an entire Tea Party group. Now, of course, this says nothing against individuals who happen to be leaders of Tea Party groups independently endorsing and promoting some candidate. But there is a huge difference between saying, “I, Joe Blow, endorse candidate X,” and saying, “This entire Tea Party group or movement endorses candidate X.” In all cases involving Tea Party groups, such claims for an entire group or the entire movement constitute blatant lies.

AC’s next (and only other) argument is that, by promoting particular candidates, Tea Partiers can advance their ideas in the political sphere. With this, I wholly agree. Tea Partiers can and, where they think they can be effective, should endorse and work for the election of particular candidates. But AC confuses the endorsements and efforts of individual Tea Partiers with the endorsements of proclaimed Tea Party leaders made on behalf on an entire group or movement.

As I concluded last time, “we’re supposed to be individualists, not collectivists. Let’s act like it.”