Monday, January 25, 2010

Anatomy of a Tea Party Pooping Endorsement

by Warner Todd Huston (First of all, I want to thank Chicago News Bench for allowing me to be a guest poster on this fine blog.) I have come to the conclusion that the Palatine Tea Party group ( made a hasty decision in picking Joe Walsh for its Illinois 8th Congressional District candidate, hasty and perhaps misguided. In fact, this choice of Joe Walsh sort of shows the pitfalls that the Tea Party movement in general can fall into. The field of candidates in the 8th District is wide, indeed. There are currently six Republicans running to snag the nomination of the Party and the differences between them are not too great when one looks over their issue statements. On the surface it would seem that throwing a dart would be just as legitimate a way as any other to make an endorsement in the 8th. But surface gloss can be deceiving and in this case, I believe that the gloss of Joe Walsh's current campaign has blinded the good folks of the Palatine Tea Party group to a certain reality. As I said there are six candidates for the 8th District nomination. Alphabetically they are: What’s Wrong With the Palatine Endorsement? From the information that I have been able to ascertain, it seems that one of the reasons that the Palatine Tea Party folks made their late December endorsement is because he won the poll that they hosted on their website. This poll was not scientific nor without controversy, however. The poll had surged overnight at one point with hundreds of votes each for candidates Walsh and rival Dirk Beveridge. This happened because of a technical flaw in the website. Apparently the poll did not record cookies so the same i.p. address could game the poll by hosting repeated votes. It seems that campaign operatives both for Beveridge and Walsh found out about this flaw and flooded the poll with multiple votes for their candidate. At some point it became impossible to know what votes were legitimate. Still, once a bunch of the votes were simply deleted, Walsh had the most votes and, therefore, got the group's support. I tried to get in touch with Craig Mijares, one of the principles of the Palatine Tea Party Group, because I had a whole raft of questions for him. Sadly after only a few emails, he evaded my communications and refused to answer any more questions. Next thing I knew I was getting emails from candidate Walsh himself at the behest of Mijares (which was good because I was going to contact Walsh next, anyway). It’s hard to escape the feeling that this refusal to answer questions in and of itself shows that this particular group is not yet ready for primetime, unable to face the glare of the spotlight and the tough questions. I come to this conclusion because the questions I had for Mr. Mijares were more about his group’s process in making the endorsement than they were about Mr. Walsh’s positions -- though I did ask some questions of the later. I am glad Walsh contacted me because he cleared up some facts and took some of my harsh opinion off his candidacy, even as I still have reservations. Anyway, that regrettable business aside, as I said with the similarity of positions between the candidates, this might not have been such a big deal if the surface extended down to the core. But I don't believe it does. Several red flags strike me when reviewing this candidate's history and actions. What’s Wrong With Joe Walsh? The “Tea Party Candidate” The first problem is that candidate Joe Walsh was counseled by his former campaign manager to "become" the "tea party candidate," and his strategy was based on that particular plan. Since the Palatine folks endorsed him in December, he's been happily calling himself the "tea party candidate" all over the place. This can be seen on just about any of his latest mass emailings. In his Jan. 20th email, for instance, he says, "I am a 'tea party' conservative first and a Republican second." He's used the tea party candidate line often since December. It all smells of strategerizing, if you will, and a cynical game plan as opposed to any organic happenstance of a candidate whose support grew naturally from the tea party movement. For myself, I have a major problem with any candidate calling themselves the tea party candidate. There may be A tea party out there, but there is no the tea party. There are thousands of groups calling themselves the tea party this or that, now, and for a candidate to try to lay claim to all of them as their leader is not only insincere, but it is impossible. Of course I expect a good Republican candidate to say that they support the tea party movement and believe in their chief principles. But saying they are the tea party candidate is a step too far towards hubris, in my opinion. It is plain that Walsh formed his strategy on becoming the tea party candidate and heavily courted the Palatine folks on that basis. But the fact is, there is no evidence that Mr. Joe Walsh ever attended a single tea party event prior to the late December endorsement he received from the Palatine folks. No videos of him speaking at one exists and no tea party event lists him as a participant before December of 2009. At least not one I can find. Now, in my email contact with candidate Walsh I asked him about some of these things. As to the tea parties, in the email exchange he informed me that he never attended any tea party events. “I attended a couple of the healthcare town halls over the summer but no formal tea party events,” he wrote. So, if he never even attended one before December of 2009 how can he be a “tea party candidate”? He told me it’s because of his positions on the issues. “The reason the tea party movement has endorsed me all over this district is because they see me as one of them: I hit both political parties over the head for all this spending and I view this campaign as much more a revolution to get back to our country's founding principles.” That is all well and good and Mr. Walsh has said since the beginning of his campaign that he’s always been a fiscal conservative. This can be shown positively because Walsh has run for office several times before. Mr. Walsh ran for Congress as well as the State House but he lost both times. But even then he ran as a fiscal conservative. As it happens, however, during those unsuccessful runs for office he ran as a moderate or liberal Republican on social issues as media reports of his own words shows. An Evanston Review article published in October of 1996 quoted Walsh as saying, "Fiscally, I've always been conservative, but if I've evolved politically, it's been as a social liberal." (In my email with Walsh he did not dispute this quote) The Once “Social Liberal” Candidate Let’s explore some of those “socially liberal” ideas he once espoused. Let's take his past abortion stance, for instance. In 1998 Mr. Walsh ran for Congress for the 10th District saying he would protect a woman's right to choose an abortion. Yet now, only about ten years later, he is suddenly a staunch anti-abortion guy. Walsh claims that his conversion took place about seven years ago and that it is heartfelt. In a recent campaign mailing he addressed this issue.
I began a five-year religious, intellectual, and scientific journey on the life issue after my race in 1998. It was an incredibly deep, long, personal journey of the heart which returned me to my pro-life roots. From that moment in 2003, when I knew in my head and my heart that life began at conception, the pro-life position without exception was where I wanted to be. It was where I had to be.
Yet, in a Jan 14 Daily Herald interview Walsh is reported as having said that the reason he ran as a pro-abortion candidate in 1996 is because "I was running in Evanston, Ill." Apparently location determines Mr. Walsh's principles, not conviction. Still, it may well be that Walsh changed his mind on abortion. We should all be willing to accept a man's change of heart. After all, Ronald Reagan, one of our most famous Republican heroes, made a mid-life conversion from New Deal voter to arch conservative. Though, Reagan's conversion was a result of decades of thinking and writing on the subject, to be sure. So maybe Walsh really is sincere? And it wouldn't be right to castigate a guy for one issue, right? And so I am not. Walsh’s Drifting on Gun Issues The problem is Walsh didn't just change his opinion on one issue. He also changed his mind on gun control -- several times, apparently -- since his previous runs in the 1990s. He was for the gun banning laws in 1998 run for the state house. He also held these and other more liberal views when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress from the 10th District in 1996. But his gun stance is particularly vexing to me. In both 1996 and 1998 he said that he supported a concealed carry law and in 1996 was for the 1994 assault weapons ban. Yet in 1998 when he ran for the State House he said he was now against the assault weapons ban. Fast forward to 2009/2010 and he's still against the assault weapons ban. One of the other more liberal views he was for in the past concerned gay issues. Walsh told me that he’s “always been tolerant of gays regarding their private behavior.” Today he says he doesn’t support civil unions, believes that marriage should be between only one man and one woman, and supports a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as such. He also says that the issue of civil unions never came up in his past races. This is undoubtedly true as the gay marriage issue did not become really heated until this last decade and his last run was in the 1990s. Still, these are too many abrupt changes for me to feel comfortable with this "tea party candidate." His own statement that he was a “social liberal” is itself enough to raise eyebrows. Walsh’s “Former Vendor” Lawsuit Then there is the lawsuit that was just filed against Walsh by his former campaign manager, Keith Lisico. Lisico claims that Walsh didn't pay him for his contracted campaign services. For his part, Walsh dismisses the lawsuit as one from but a mere "former vendor." Walsh dissembles, I believe, with this characterization. Lisico was not just a "former vendor" but was Walsh's chief strategist, decade-long friend, and campaign manager. Lately a whisper campaign has been mounted trying to cast Lisico as some sort of Democrat operative or an operative from an opposing candidate. I see no evidence of this at all if for no other reason than that Lisico helped Walsh in previous considerations for a run or office. It isn't like Lisico just showed up out of nowhere in 2009 to help Walsh with his campaign. Final Assessment of Walsh So, it seems pretty clear that there are some major reasons to distrust Joe Walsh as a proper, down-the-line conservative candidate, the sort of solid, life-long conservative that a tea party group can support without reservations. My last problem with the Walsh candidacy is that he doesn’t even live in the district in which he’s currently running. He actually lives in the 10th District. This I suppose is a minor consideration, but it adds to the feeling that Walsh is a bit more mercenary than he tries to let on. Now, as I said, I had an email exchange with the candidate himself over these questions. As to the gun issue, Mr. Walsh told me that he has always been pro gun. “In 1996, I was for the ban on assault weapons,” he wrote, “which I realized shortly thereafter crazy. But I was always pro gun and pro conceal carry and had a number of attacks pieces thrown my way from my Democratic opponent.” So, it is certainly possible that the news reports of Walsh’s gun positions from the 1996 race that I related above were incorrect (I am the last person to assume the media is perfect, after all). Still the jumping around on the issue is a bit disconcerting. What makes me wonder about the Palatine folks choice is that tolerance for flip flopping is famously low within the tea party movement, yet this candidate has been a known flip flopper and they still went for him. It makes me wonder how much research they did into his past? Final assessment of Walsh? He’s most certainly a fiscal conservative and small government guy. On that issue he fits well with tea party ideals. But his drifting on social issues is troubling. I also feel he is mischaracterizing this lawsuit situation. On top of all that, his seeming burning desire to achieve elected office with multiple runs seems far too needy and his jumping from one district to another to try and win office seems a tad too mercenary for my tastes. I envision a more proper tea party candidate as one being either a political neophyte such as Mr. Beveridge, or one with a proven track record of being elected whose ideas fit well enough with the tea party movement such as Maria Rodriguez. These are the reasons I did not endorse Mr. Walsh, though I want to clearly state that if he wins the nomination he should be supported by all good Republicans. What’s Wrong With Tea Party Groups? Now, I'll address why I think this shows a limitation to the tea party movement itself… As I said, the Palatine Tea Party folks chose Joe Walsh based on his current stance on the issues as compared to the other candidates coupled with a website poll of their members. This is all well and good on a cursory level. The problem is that these well meaning folks were obviously not aware of Walsh's self-professed more liberal past positions and general statements. And it is obvious they didn't do any research into what Joe Walsh had done and said in the past. These folks are so new to politics that they likely had no idea that Walsh was a losing candidate several times in the past, and a more liberal candidate at that. This is my own surmise, admittedly, since the group reused to engage me in a conversation on these issues. Anyway, therein lies the problem. Too many tea party folks all across the country are wholly unfamiliar with the political scene upon which they've decided to pass judgment. Many of these groups are filled with newcomers to politics, folks that have no idea what has happened in their area in the past. Their newfound enthusiasm is fantastic and laudable, but limiting in effectiveness on some level. In fact, I raised this very point with young Zach Oltmanns of the new Illinois Conservatives FaceBook group in a recent interview. He admitted that his BS detector was at first a bit unrefined simply because he was so new to politics. He admitted that a few candidates did fool them in the beginning because they didn’t have enough hard-bitten politicos with them to warn them of this weakness. They are learning to be more skeptical, he told me. This is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Heck, I even had to change an endorsement because I missed as aspect of a candidate that I had initially endorsed. Now, I support the ideals of the tea party movement. I was there from the beginning and was "in the know" during the planning stages of the big Chicago event when Eric Odom organized the Tax Day Tea Party protest in April of 2009. I attended that event and posted a video report of it. Further, I have been an activist writing on national and local politics since 2001 and have worked with various state policy groups since 2006. I have had my work appear on Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Boortz, and several other radio shows and I've also been a guest on many of the same. I have appeared in many magazines and newspapers with my work and appeared on CNN and Breitbart TV. I am not Johnny-come-lately to this whole thing, in other words. Naturally I agree with the sentiment of the tea party movement that distrusts the old political hacks of our past. I agree with them that things need to change. But to completely and out of hand reject any connection to past local political history is a major mistake and could easily lead to bad choices. I contend that the Palatine folks had no knowledge of Walsh's past because they had no one with them that had been intimately knowledgeable of Illinois politics from only as far back as 1998. Joe Walsh was an unknown quantity to them and they took all his glossy campaign claims at face value. It was a mistake born of ignorance of the past. This is a mistake not born of stupidity, not born of malice, but born of mere unfamiliarity. I think this shows a bit of a draw back with tea party groups. Sure they are enthusiastic and that is great. But many of them have a naiveté on the very local political scene in which they want to wield influence and this will surely cause them (collectively) some problems. I think this Joe Walsh situation is a perfect example of this draw back. Also I have seen many postings railing against one thing or another by tea party folks about their candidates not making the headway that they want to see made but many of these postings show an ignorance of the political rules and regulations that candidates have to live under. Sure some of these rules and regulations need to change, but they are in force and have to be dealt with today despite how bad they may be. Sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling "la,la,la" so that you can't hear about them is not helping anyone get good tea party principles ensconced in government. It all amounts to a problem when so many tea party groups are wholly unfamiliar with the very system and actors that they want to affect. Anyway, I hope that this story serves as an object lesson. If tea party groups want to begin to back candidates, they'd better do as much research into their candidates as possible instead of just looking at issue statements, reading a glossy campaign flyer, or sitting in the audience of a candidate's forum. There is far more to this politics game that the surface. Last Words I know this has been a long piece, but there is one last thing I need to say here. To vote them all back in or to vote them all out are two sides of the same coin. Both are irresponsible and dispense with having to actually think about and evaluate the incumbents. It may be cathartic to scream that we should vote every incumbent out. I’ve been known to yell it a time or two myself. But it just isn’t a responsible position to take. Am I arguing for the status quo? Am I an establishment guy? If you think that you haven’t been paying attention. I’ve been railing against the status quo since before the word “blog” was even widely used. Further am I saying the Palatine Tea Party folks are bad? No, I am only saying that I think through naiveté they made a bad decision. That is all. In the end, what I am saying is that we need to inculcate some of the established political realities into our efforts to bring political change. We need to weed out the sham candidates from the good incumbents. We need to go forward with an informed effort, not some willy-nilly, slam-wham, shotgun effort that is unfocused and uninformed. Anyway, I apologize for how darn long this thing is, but there was a lot at issue. And, as always, I need an editor because I am always one to say in ten words what can be said in two. Anyone want the job? Seriously, though, I know that this one just might raise the ire of a few folks and I wanted to take pains to be as clear as I could, hence the length and wordiness. Editor's Note: Thanks very much to Warner for posting this important article, which he originally posted at Publius' Forum. We strongly recommend that you add Publius' Forum to your reading list. More from Warner Todd Huston: Warner's FaceBook Page On Twitter: warnerthuston Warner's MySpace Page Leave a Comment * Conservative T-Shirts * Follow CNB on Twitter * RSS Feed