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Tea Party Assessing Damage From Election 2012?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, we're hearing a lot about the so-called fiscal cliff: those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that will take effect if lawmakers and the White House don't come up with a deficit reduction plan by the end of the year. We're going to focus on a tax hike that may hit many more people than you might think. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we're talking once again with people we call the loyal opposition, asking what they expect and hope for in the next four years. Yesterday, we heard perspective from a progressive voice, the former advocate turned Obama administration official turned advocate Van Jones.

Today, we want to hear from a voice from the Tea Party movement. After triumph in the midterm elections in 2010, where they were widely credited with returning the House to Republican control, the movement is now reflecting on this year's election night drubbing.

Tea Party favorites like Congressman Joe Walsh from Illinois lost his reelection bid. Congressman Allen West is behind in his reelection bid, although he has not yet conceded. And, of course, the Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan won back his seat in the Congress, but couldn't carry the bigger prize as Mitt Romney's running mate, and couldn't even carry his home state.

So we wanted to know more about what people in the Tea Party think they should do now. We're joined now by Shelby Blakely. She's the journalist coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, and she's with us from time to time to offer perspective.

Shelby, thanks so much for joining us once again.

SHELBY BLAKELY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You were saying earlier that last Tuesday was a bad night for the Tea Party. We mentioned some of the races that didn't go well for Tea Party standard-bearers. What do you think were some of the critical factors in those outcomes?

BLAKELY: Well, this election was a congruence of quite a few events. Both sides received fewer votes in the popular count than the 2008 election. That took everybody by surprise. And there's also a lot of Tea Party candidates, or candidates that support Tea Party values, that were openly targeted by far-left PACs and other organizations. And those representatives, we're hearing widespread reports of the fact that the GOP establishment in those states gave them no support.

Joe Walsh is a good example of that, Michele Bachmann. Allen West is also a good example of that.

MARTIN: So what do you think that the major factor is here? Is it - you think that if the Republican apparatus or institutional networks had been more supportive of these candidates, they would have done better? I mean, because you certainly can't say that about Paul Ryan. He was the vice presidential nominee. He was on the ticket.

BLAKELY: He was, and notice he did win his seat. But in the instance of maybe not as - not so much of the rock star status, but of representatives who have quietly and consistently held with Tea Party values of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets, they did not receive the help from the NRCC or the Boehner clan or anyone like that.

It's been a schism that has existed between the Tea Party and the Republican Party for quite some time, and it's only getting bigger.

MARTIN: Do you think that this is philosophical or personal? Because there are those who would look at the races, some of the races that we talked to - talked about - Allen West, for example. I know you were in West Palm Beach on election night. Some people would say that he just was a bad candidate, and he expressed himself in a manner that was very divisive, that he was very polarizing.

He got himself drawn into sort of snippity-sniping fights with people that weren't necessary. Same thing with Michele Bachmann: Some people felt that she just wasn't as good of a candidate as the - that some of these folks just weren't very good candidates, and they just polarized people unnecessarily. There was less about ideology and more about them as candidates. What's your perspective on that?

BLAKELY: The candidates you're talking about, I believe they are blunt. I believe in, particularly in Allen West's case, that he's a soldier. He goes where the fight is. That's his job. That's his training. That's what we expect him to do. And quite frankly, as a representative, that's what we're paying him to do. And I think that it's not about personality or culture, it's about power.

The Republicans want to hold onto their power, and we are the biggest threat to their power. I've long believed that John Boehner, if you give him a choice between having lunch with someone from his district and having lunch with Nancy Pelosi, he's going to choose Nancy Pelosi because he has more in common with her than the man from his district.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Shelby Blakely of the Tea Party Patriots about what's next for the Tea Party after last week's election results.

You know, Shelby, we've talked a lot about the intra-Republican discord that you feel contributed to some of these defeats, but the fact is these candidates aren't just competing against other Republicans. They're competing in the electorate at large for the loyalty and for the votes of the public at large.

And so I have to ask: Is the issue here that Republican apparatchiks did not support these candidates sufficiently, or was it that the general electorate just does not agree with them?

BLAKELY: I firmly believe it is the Republican apparatus and mechanisms that did not support it, because when you look at the electoral map and you look at the history of elections, somewhere around 85 percent of congressional seats never change parties. Only 15 percent of the seats are actually a contest between the Republican and the Democrat. The real battle goes on in the primaries between Republicans or Democratic candidates on whichever way that district swings.

So I absolutely believe it has to do with more of the Republican anointed and their self-selected group, as opposed to listening to the will of the people. And there's several races where after the candidate won the primary - and Richard Mourdock is a perfect example of this - long before any comments he made about rape or anything like that, he won the primary.

The state GOP party of Indiana did not offer him any help, and at no point during the campaign did Richard Lugar - who lost that primary - decide I'm going to support the Republican candidate who won. He never did.

MARTIN: But what about Mitt Romney? Didn't Mitt Romney do ads for him? I mean, if he's the top of the ticket, doesn't that support mean something?

BLAKELY: Mitt Romney did, but honestly, the problem that the Tea Party has with Mitt Romney is they couldn't see enough daylight in between him and Barack Obama on one of our number one issues, which is health care reform and Obamacare. There was just not enough reasons to be energized, and honestly, the turnout on both sides of the electoral map reflected that.

MARTIN: Well, talk about - speaking of turnout, again, I have to press this question about whether the real issue is within the Republican Party or the Tea Party's message to the broader electorate. So much discussion about this being a quote-unquote "demographic" election. Now, you know, we could argue about some of the particulars, but so-called minorities - Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans - overwhelmingly supported the Democrat.

Now, in the case of Asian-Americans, for example, an 11-point increase from 2008. Seventy-three percent of Asian-Americans voted for the Democrat. That's compared to 62 percent in 2008. Why do you think that is?

BLAKELY: Well, honestly, I think the Republicans - and to some extent, even the Tea Party - we lost the messaging war. The Democrats have been very good at bringing the message of more government dependence in the name of a, quote, "social safety net." And it's up the Republicans to ask: Where is this money coming from? And the Tea Party has long held that this money has to come from somewhere. We cannot simply sign this debt over to our children. And I think we did not accomplish that message. We did not properly broadcast the message of everything we're buying now, our children are paying for.

MARTIN: Do you adhere to this - let me make sure I understand what you're saying here, because you remember that during the campaign, that Mitt Romney was very much criticized by Democrats and others for comments that were secretly taped of him suggesting that, you know, a significant portion of the electorate would not vote for him because they are essentially dependent on government.

Are you suggesting that the people who voted for the Democrats - particularly minorities - voted for them because they have a dependence on government? Is that your perspective?

BLAKELY: I wouldn't say that. I think that there is a large section of the country - I mean, the numbers have just come out signifying a record number of people on food stamps. Not only that, last month was the single biggest month increase in over a year and I think there is a growing number of people who have nowhere else to turn besides the government, but the problem is the government's policies, this oppressive regulation, these tax increases that are about to hit. That is what's driving these people to have no other place to go and the message of the Republicans and the message of grassroots organizations should be one of hope.

We want to help you help yourself. No one wants to be dependent on the government forever and, if someone does, there's nothing we can do for them, but I do believe that people want jobs. They want to work. They want to achieve and it is government's job to get out of the way so that we can.

MARTIN: What is your message about what needs to happen next? I've been - you know, obviously, as we mentioned, we spoke to Van Jones yesterday and he is very - you know, he was talking about what he expects, particularly in these discussions over deficit reduction, what he feels that that kind of - that an agreement should look like. We've talked mainly about what you think needs to happen within the Republican Party.

Just in the time that we have left, I just wanted to ask you, kind of in a more open-ended way, what do you hope to see in the next four years? What do you want to see, either from the Republican Party or from the - kind of the political leadership on the whole?

BLAKELY: Well, because America voted for more of the same, what I would like to see and what's possible are two very different things, but what I would like to see within the realm of possibility is I would like to see citizens become more engaged on the local and state levels and encourage and enable their state governments to take power back from the federal government. I'd like to see a balance of power between the federal government and the state governments become equalized. I'd love to see a redistribution of power from Washington, D.C.

MARTIN: Is that what you're going to work on? What are you going to personally do? How are you going to focus your efforts?

BLAKELY: Personally, I believe that the media is a very important apparatus to the information received by the American public. Thomas Jefferson once said that, if it were left to me to choose between a government with no newspapers and newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to decide to approve the latter.

I believe that the media is absolutely necessary and I'm working on finding and training citizens who want to become journalists who are willing to get this information out to the people on the local and regional level.

MARTIN: Shelby Blakely is the journalist coordinator with the Tea Party Patriots and she joined us from member station WABE in Atlanta.

Shelby Blakely, thanks so much for joining us once again.

BLAKELY: Great to be back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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