While much of the political world is focused on the health care summit called for February 25 by President Obama, there’s an earlier summit worth watching that will happen tomorrow when RNC chairman Michael Steele meets with about 50 Tea Party leaders from a dozen or so states. Here’s how Kenneth Vogel of Politico describes it:
Steele’s planned Tuesday meeting with tea party leaders from at least a dozen states — a meeting organized by Karin Hoffman, founder of a South Florida tea party group called DC Works For Us — represents something of a breakthrough in the GOP’s courting of the tea party. Though Steele and other GOP leaders have occasionally scored meetings with individual leaders of national groups involved in the tea party movement, Tuesday will mark the first large-scale get-together between the national party and grass-roots activists from a wide array of regional tea party groups.
The meeting will further galvanize disagreements between those Tea Party activists who want to keep their distance from the GOP (many of them Ron Paul disciples and many of them affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots group that was so critical of the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville earlier this month), and those who want to work closely with Republicans to defeat GOP “moderates” in primaries and Democrats in the general election.
What makes the intra-Tea Party arguments on this subject potentially misleading is that many of these “independent” activists really want to take over the GOP in conjunction with hard-core Republican conservatives. The proportion of tea partiers who want to remain permanently independent is probably quite small. The disagreement is largely over terms for a Tea Party/Republican fusion, which makes many activists touchy about how it’s described. It’s clear now, for example, that Sarah Palin made a major mistake in Nashville by urging the Republican Party to “absorb” the Tea Party movement. “Surrender to” would have been a much more popular formulation for the crowd at Opryland.
Underlying the tension over “fusion” is the unhappiness of some Tea Party activists–understandably concentrated among self-conscious libertarians and Ron Paul “revolutionaries”–with the cultural conservatism and foreign policy militarism of “movement conservatives” in the GOP. But again, it’s unclear how many activists actually disagree with such conservative views, and how many simply support a focus on fiscal issues for tactical reasons.
in other words, you may need a decoder ring to understand reactions to tomorrow’s Steele-Tea Party summit.