There is no single Tea Party movement in America, no Tea Party Central that dictates to local chapters, though some organizations might like to fill that role. Fresh proof of the decentralized and sometimes contradictory nature of the Tea phenomenon comes from Nevada, where Scott Ashjian, an independent candidate for U.S. Senate representing the Tea Party of Nevada has released an audiotape of a meeting with the Republican candidate, Sharron Angle, at which she urged Ashjian to drop out of the race. Angle herself is often identified as the "tea party" challenger to Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, and TP support is credited with lifting her to victory in the Republican primary. Ashjian, however, has remained in the race, resisting pressure from Republicans and other TP groups who want him to withdraw. Ashjian's meeting with Angle was brokered by the chairman of the Tea Party of Nevada, who has resigned following his candidate's release of the recording.
According to reports of the recording, Angle appeals to Ashjian on lesser-evil principles, warning him that if he remains in the race, Reid will be re-elected. She's modest in her promises to Ashjian, offering him at best access to Jim DeMint and other Senators with whom Angle claims to have "juice." While Ashjian spurned Angle's offer, it's interesting to note one of his own demands: a formal apology from the Tea Party Express, one of the most successful TP fundraising groups, for accusing him of being a fraud and a plant, running only in order to divide the conservative vote and ensure Reid's re-election. A genuine fraud, I suspect, wouldn't care what the Express thought of him or want an apology from them.
Angle has caught fresh heat from the Nevada media, and possibly within her own camp, for her recorded criticisms of the Republican party. There's little cause for outrage here: Angle ran as an insurgent with an infiltration agenda to reform the GOP, so her criticism of the national party establishment should surprise or offend no one. It's not as if she's saying she'll cross the aisle and vote with Democrats, after all. She's also within her rights to ask Ashjian to step aside. While I disagree with lesser-evil arguments, people are still free to make them. Ashjian has been criticized for publicizing the recording; for some observers, it's the ultimate proof that his only purpose has been to sabotage the Republican candidate. But unless he made some promise of confidentiality to Angle that he has now broken, it's his prerogative to publicize the offer of a deal that he's rejected. The individual most clearly disgraced by the episode is the erstwhile chairman of the Tea Party of Nevada, who upon resigning immediately endorsed Angle. His purpose in arranging the meeting, apparently, was to convince his candidate, Ashjian, to step aside in Angle's favor. If some Nevadans accuse Ashjian of being an impostor, what do they make of a TP leader who'd decided to sacrifice political independence on the altar of lesser-evilism? He seems to be one of the Tea Partiers who've opted for the short cut to power through infiltration of the Republican party. His reasons are self-evidently reactionary; he hates or fears the Democratic party and liberalism. He may not represent Tea Partyism as a whole, but his example shows that politics driven by fear or hatred will never really be independent.