How Not to Win Friends in Washington, Tea Party Edition

| Fri Nov. 12, 2010 11:20 AM PST

Watching the tea party movement try to take on the Washington establishment over the coming months may be one of the best forms of entertainment to be had this year, as the political novices try to match wits with people who've been playing the influence game for decades. Consider the latest:

In the wake of their big election "victory," the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) hastily organized an orientation session for newly elected members of Congress in DC. The national tea party umbrella group rented space at the swank Ronald Reagan building, arranged for more than 100 of its local coordinators to be flown in for the event, and even pulled Reagan-era attorney general Ed Meese out of the mothballs and signed him on as a keynote speaker. After shelling out more than $100,000, the group discovered that it wasn't the only one interested in getting to those newly elected freshmen. The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, had also organized a similar event. Worse still, it was scheduled for the same day and time as the tea party orientation. 

The tea partiers responded by lobbying the newly elected lawmakers to come to their event instead of the one organized by the Claremont Institute. TPP sent out an indignant email blast suggesting that Claremont was simply hosting a GOP event in disguise, and that the competing "orientation" was an attempt by lobbyists to get first crack at the freshman class. "DC insiders, the RNC, and lobbyists are already trying to push the Tea Party aside and co-opt the incoming Congressmen," the group wrote. TPP even asked its members to call the soon-to-be members of Congress and lobby them personally to come to the tea party event. This turned out to be a pretty bad idea. The email TPP circulated contained the personal cell phone numbers of some of the freshmen, who for a 24-hour stretch, received non-stop calls from tea partiers. Those calls did not, of course, go over well with their intended targets. On Friday, TPP sent out another email to activists urging them to stop calling the freshman, writing:

We listed the contact information we had for these freshmen and we now know that some of it was personal cell phone numbers or fax numbers. This list was the best information we had at the time. We also understand that sometimes members of Congress find it annoying to receive numerous calls from voters. But we encourage them to remember it is part of the job and they asked to be hired. This will not be the last time.

Not only that, but TPP included a few people on its list who hadn't actually won their elections, so the likes of Virginia's Keith Fimian and a few others also got assaulted with phone calls, prompting the group to acknowledge its bungling:

We need to offer our sincere apologies to a John Koster, Jesse Kelly, and Keith Fimian who ran for office and did not get elected but we had them listed on our list of people to call. These are people who stepped up and were willing to serve the public. They lost their elections and need to be able to get back to their lives. We offer our most sincere apologies to you for having melted your phone lines.

Meanwhile, the initial tea party hysteria over the Claremont Institute event proved to be, well, hysteria. Both Claremont and the RNC have said that the Institute's shindig had nothing at all to do with the GOP, and that it was actually proposed by the freshmen themselves. Given the JV nature of TPP's organizing effort in DC, it will be interesting to see just how the tea partiers are going to "orient" the incoming congressional freshman. It sounds like it's the tea partiers themselves who could use the tutorial on the ways of Washington.

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