In an unruly, unpredictable and chaotic election year, no group has asserted its presence and demanded to be heard more forcefully than the tea party. The grass-roots movement that was spawned with a rant has gone on to upend the existing political order, reshaping the debate in Washington, defeating a number of prominent lawmakers and elevating a fresh cast of conservative stars.Let me get this straight: SEVENTY PERCENT of the grassroots organizations have not participated in any political campaigning at all this year?!? Unbelievable. Going to rallies alone does not do anything in getting the vote out. One has to go door to door, make phone calls, etc. I'm calling the bluff right now. Let's continue on now, shall we.
But a new Washington Post canvass of hundreds of local tea party groups reveals a different sort of organization, one that is not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process.
The results come from a months-long effort by The Post to contact every tea party group in the nation, an unprecedented attempt to understand the network of individuals and organizations at the heart of the nascent movement.
Seventy percent of the grass-roots groups said they have not participated in any political campaigning this year. As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general.
The local groups stand in contrast to - and, in their minds, apart from - a handful of large national groups that claim the tea party label. Most of those outfits, including FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express, are headed by longtime political players who have used their resources and know-how to help elect a number of candidates.So it's not as large as the media makes the movement appear to be?
The findings suggest that the breadth of the tea party may be inflated. The Atlanta-based Tea Party Patriots, for example, says it has a listing of more than 2,300 local groups, but The Post was unable to identify anywhere near that many, despite help from the organization and independent research.
In all, The Post identified more than 1,400 possible groups and was able to verify and reach 647 of them. Each answered a lengthy questionnaire about their beliefs, members and goals. The Post tried calling the others as many as six times. It is unclear whether they are just hard to reach or don't exist.
What are they so concerned with?
The most common responses were concerns about spending and limiting the size of government, but together those were named by less than half the groups. Social issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights, did not register as concerns.Social issues are not a concern?!? Say what?!? The biggest issues that DRIVE Republicans to the polls are being scared of Adam marrying Steve instead of Eve. Or Suzy killing her unborn child. I can't believe that the tea party movement does not care about social issues. It's a shock.
What goes on at this tea party meetings?
One question remains: If most tea party groups don't engage in political campaigning, what exactly do they do?Political novices, indeed. You don't get the vote out like that. You have to make phone calls and go door to door.
Lisante, from Miami County, Ohio, said his meetings generally start with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer, and then a speaker and a skit - the most recent was about the bank bailout. (Lisante said it was very funny.) The point, he said, is not to organize political action but to educate members and encourage them to become active on their own.
"Basically, we say: 'Listen, guys: You can no longer be the one who doesn't vote,' " Lisante said. " 'If you want to have an impact, you've got to show up.' "