Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber Need to Debate the Future of the Tea Party Movement

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Photo: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Last night, speaking before tea party "rank and file" in Arkansas, Sarah Palin said that angry patriots considering candidacy for office "have to pick a party and run one or the other: ‘R’ or ‘D.’" A few weeks ago, she said that the tea party and the GOP "need to merge." Now, Palin has as much tea party street cred as anybody else — she made the keynote speech at the convention, after all. But her belief that activists should join forces with one of the major parties — and let's be honest, that means the GOP — is far from universally agreed upon within the movement. The age-old question for the tea party has been: Should they throw their support behind the Republicans, or are both parties so corrupt and out of touch that the tea party movement must be careful to remain independent? Palin represents the former school of thought. To the latter, we turn to none other than our old friend, Joe the Plumber.

Mr. Plumber has experienced a reemergence of sorts in recent days, at least as far as getting attention in the national media. At a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania over the weekend — apparently he has speaking engagements — he blasted none other than Sarah Palin for being too supportive of the establishment, i.e. John McCain. "Let's call a spade a spade. She is backing John McCain. John McCain is of the Republican machine," he said. "That is not what the tea party movement is about." Last night, as a guest on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, Plumber reiterated his distrust in the GOP, via John McCain. "John McCain exactly doesn't represent true conservatism," he said. "He does represent the Republicans, but not true conservatism."

Plumber may be just one dude plucked out of obscurity, but he's not alone. Fifty prominent tea party activists met with RNC chairman Michael Steele for four hours yesterday, but not because they want to join forces. Quite the opposite, actually. Instead, their "primary goal" was to "make clear to Steele that tea party activists want the national party to stay out of local races," CNN reports. Furthermore, according to Politico:

Activists said they will not back down from primary challenges to Republican candidates and, asked if they left the meeting as “loyal Republicans,” the group unanimously shouted “no."


Palin's continued embrace of the Republican Party is pragmatic (if tea party candidates ran in general elections, it would split the conservative vote and often hand the election to the Democrat), and probably self-serving (she needs both the tea party passion and the Republican party apparatus for whenever she runs for president). Plumber represents a more jaded position. He's not opposed to all Republicans, but he's much more wary of being co-opted by The Man. We know the tea party movement isn't supposed to have "leaders" or anything, because it's all about "the people," but it occurs to us that to become truly influential, its adherents will need to decide whether to focus their efforts on working within the two-party system, or running against it. Which is why we propose that Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber debate their respective visions for the tea party, once and for all. One night, pay-per-view, Madison Square Garden. Profits go to Haiti, obviously. Sarah? Joe? Who's with us?

Palin: Tea Partiers "Have to Pick a Party" [CBS News]