Reince Priebus’s Tea Party Tightrope

Will Priebus’s tea part roots offend big GOP donors? We hope not.

Reince Priebus faces many challenges in taking over the Republican National Committee, but among the trickiest will be building support from the anti-establishment tea party without offending big GOP donors or the independent voters the party needs in 2012.

The GOP’s ability to strike that balance could go a long way towards determining the outcome of Election Day 2012. And Priebus’s experience as Republican chairman in Wisconsin shows just how difficult it can be to bring along the fractious tea party – full of feuding groups and relatively new activists who abhor the philosophical compromises often necessary to build broad coalitions.

While Priebus boasted of his good relations with Wisconsin tea party groups during his campaign for RNC chairman, the leaders of those groups give his tenure mixed reviews, with some accusing him of only giving lip service to the movement while stacking the deck against its candidates, shutting them out of the process, or working to absorb them into the GOP.

“Priebus will do whatever it takes to co-opt the tea party movement,” said Mike Murphy, chairman of a tea-party allied 527 group called The Republican Liberty Caucus of Wisconsin

Founded in late 2009, Murphy’s group supported tea party candidates in the midterm elections, including some who were undercut by the state GOP, which largely ignored long-shot tea party candidates, and endorsed the primary rivals of others at its May convention – months before the primary election.

“He didn’t allow for conservative voices that didn’t jibe with the establishment view and if he charges down that course (at the RNC), the tea party people will wake up and it may very well split up the Republican Party” coalition that powered the GOP’s 2010 landslide, said Murphy.

Interviews with eight other Wisconsin tea party leaders since Priebus’s election Friday as RNC chairman revealed similar misgivings about Priebus’s handling of the party endorsement process, which they saw as emblematic of the clubby establishment politics that the tea party has railed against since the movement burst onto the scene in April 2009 in opposition to what its activists saw as a fiscally reckless agenda being pursued by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Read more from Kenneth Vogel at Politico

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