As Joe noted earlier, reports of ugly incidents in the wake of the health-care vote keep trickling in. As the Kansas City Star reports (h/t Ben Smith), Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita were vandalized over the weekend; assailants allegedly hurled a brick inscribed with anti-Obama rhetoric through a plate-glass window. A former militia leader took responsibility for the attack, which mirrored another, on a Democratic committee headquarters in Rochester. Democratic Reps. Louise Slaughter (an obvious target because of the controvery over the so-called Slaughter Solution) and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona also had their offices vandalized.
Yesterday I spoke with Mark Williams, the Sacramento-based chair of the Tea Party Express, and Eric Odom, chairman of Liberty First PAC, a “committee of tea party organizers, activists and liberty minded bloggers.” Unsurprisingly, both told me their peers been galvanized by the health-care vote. Williams’ group is launching another bus tour with a March 27 stop in Searchlight, Nev., home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, while Odom told me he planned to redirect his focus to “electoral activism” by targeting 45 different House and Senate races.
Williams and Odom both dismissed the argument that incidents of racism, homophobia and vandalism threaten to tarnish the movement. Williams said charges that Tea Party protesters hurled epithets at Democrats like John Lewis and Barney Frank were unproven, then suggested it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that lefty infiltrator seeking to sully the Tea Partyers had been the real culprit. “There’s a fringe element in every movement and every group in history,” Odom says. This is true, and I agree that it’s unfair to lump in the passionate and civil members of the movement with the increasingly voluble fringe. But as reports of repugnant behavior keep accruing, marginalizing them by attributing them to outliers will become a harder sell. Over the past few days, Bart Stupak has faced death threats, while Tea Partyers in Virginia’s Fifth District – a group I recently wrote about – mistakenly posted the home address of Democrat Tom Perriello’s brother in an attempt to help angry constituents who wished to confront the freshman Congressman. (UPDATE: Politico reports the FBI is investigating a severed gas line at Perriello’s brother’s home. ) It’s hard to imagine independent voters won’t cringe at this sort of intimidation. For a while now, pundits have argued that the Tea Party could emerge as a threat to the GOP if it cannibalizes the conservative vote by backing third-party candidates. But if this sort of behavior continues, it could be that the real threat Republicans face from the Tea Partyers is if voters disgusted with the vitriol begin to conflate the two.
Also: Thanks, Adam, for the generous welcome. I’m looking forward to pitching in around here.