Keli Carender, the Seattle activist credited with being the first tea partier, knows that something went wrong this year. Marquee Tea Party candidates lost big. Voters, in re-electing President Obama, seemed to reject the Tea Party values of repealing Obamacare and slashing taxes on job creators.
But Carender doesn't believe any of this means that the Tea Party failed, or that it abetted the failure of the Republican Party in elections this year. Instead, she's setting her sights on the future, which will involve teaching tea party activists to act like the Obama campaign.
"The right got completely out-hustled and out-organized by the Obama get-out-the-vote machine," Carender said in a phone interview from her native Seattle. She now works for the Tea Party Patriots group. "You’ve got to hand it to them for their community organizing capabilities. We can learn from them."
This election cycle, the Republican establishment spending machine focused on carpet-bombing states with television ads and robocalls, while the more populist Tea Party apparatus — represented by groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity — handled the tasks of canvassing voters and organizing them. But they fell far short of what they could achieve during the Republican wave of 2010.
"I think they weren’t as effective because they were just completely overwhelmed by twhat he left put into their ground game," Carender said. "We need to register more voters who are likely to side with the tea party."
She rejected the notion that more voters sided with Obama's policies than not.
"To me that doesn’t show any sort of giant ideological shift, it’s a superior ground game," she said.
But she admitted that the Tea Party hadn't looked ahead to 2012.
"We were focused on fighting Obamacare," Carender said. "We hadn’t thought ahead to elections."
And for Carender, the fact that candidates like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin failed had nothing to do with the tea party.
"What got those two guys in the doghouse were their comments on social issues," she said. "Those are not tea party issues. We’re a fiscal movement."
She named other failed Senate candidates like Connie Mack and George Allen as symptomatic of a deeper problem, since they were "establishment picks."
"I think it’s very clever of the establishment to pick out the two failed so-called tea party candidates," she said. "And two of the bright spots were Ted Cruz and Deb Fischer. The quality of the candidate is the most important thing."
"This election made it incredibly clear why at Tea Party Patriots we do not endorse candidates," Carender said. "Candidates fail and candidates make mistakes."
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at email@example.com.
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