For the most part, the Tea Party’s leaderless structure has been a source of strength. But it has also caused problems, such as when a clown bearing the movement’s brand spews bile that reflects poorly on its brand. When you resist defining who speaks for the Tea Party, anyone can claim the movement’s imprimatur for their own ends. That appears to be what a New York City-based group of Ron Paul supporters has done by holding a protest against a presidential rival under the Tea Party banner.
On Monday, I received a press release trumpeting a protest later in the day outside the office of Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, a freshman representative who recently endorsed Mitt Romney. “Tea Party Furious Over Romney Endorsement,” read the headline. The release says:
Congressman Grimm of Staten Island, who was elected to office in 2010 with the support of the Tea Party, made news yesterday by giving his endorsement to the one presidential candidate most out of step with Tea Party values: Former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has a history of being on the wrong side of key Tea Party issues, including his support for the TARP Bank Bailouts and universal healthcare.
When there are several authentic Tea Party candidates in the presidential race, including Michelle Bachman [sic], Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry, many Tea Partiers are asking, “Has Congressman Grimm sold us out for the GOP establishment? Has he already been co-opted by Washington?”
Tea Partiers from all camps (including supporters of Bachman [sic], Paul, Cain, and Perry) are rallying in protest of Congressman Grimm.
It’s hard to quarrel with the characterization that Romney has less Tea Party support than any of his four opponents that the release mentions. But this seems to be a case of a Paul backer blasting Grimm — and by extension Romney, who Paul must go through to win the Republican nomination — while framing the protest as an upwelling of Tea Party ire rather than a rally orchestrated by a rival campaign.
The group behind the event, NYC Liberty HQ, describes itself as a grassroots organization dedicated to “assembling NYC Republicans and conservatives in support of Ron Paul.” Its goal is to “promote the legislative agenda” of the Texas Congressman. The media contact for the Grimm/Romney protest is Eric Brakey, a Paul booster who serves as NYC Liberty HQ’s spokesman. When I called Brakey to ask about the origins of the protest, he said that Grimm’s endorsement was “a bit of betrayal to us Tea Partyers in New York City,” and that his organization, which he described as an “unaffiliated group,” was one of several that helped piece together the event.
Brakey said that Perry, Bachmann and Cain supporters would be among those attending the protest. But in two phone calls, he could not name any other group involved in planning the protest. “After the endorsement, there was an explosion of buzz on the Internet from a lot of upset Tea Partyers. The protests started getting planned out of that,” Brakey said. “My organization caught on with that and we simply got involved to reach out to the media. There are no other specific groups that I can point to.” Nor could he point to any specific websites or online discussion boards that fostered the anti-Grimm or anti-Romney buzz.
That’s not to say that Tea Partyers weren’t irked by Grimm’s decision. The frost between Romney and the Tea Party has hardly thawed; on Labor Day Weekend, Romney’s appearance at a Tea Party Express bus-tour stop prompted a protest by rival national group FreedomWorks. But NYC Liberty HQ’s inability to point to any other sources of Monday’s protest suggests that an event staged under the Tea Party’s name is largely the product of a Paul fan group. At best, the lines were blurred. And at least one media outlet printed the press release in exactly the terms Brakey wanted.
Gary Howard, a spokesman for Paul’s presidential bid, said in an email that NYC Liberty HQ is not affiliated with the campaign.