Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, told me today that in his opinion, candidates who have received endorsements from the ostracized Tea Party Express should work to distance themselves from the group. Speaking after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) debuted her Tea Party Caucus, Meckler told me that candidates who have relied on the Tea Party Express for help — a list that includes Sharron Angle and Marco Rubio — should repudiate the group and its controversial spokesperson Mark Williams.
“It’s up to every individual candidate,” Meckler said. “But if I were running, I’d definitely step away from that kind of rhetoric.”
Meckler condemned Williams as a racist and said that conservatives everywhere — including candidates — need to shun him.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The Tea Party Patriots’ long-running feud with the Tea Party Express is well documented, and Meckler has had bad things to say about the TPE — which some tea partiers think is merely an attempt by Republican operatives to steal the movement’s thunder — for quite a while now.
But by shifting the focus to Tea Party Express-backed candidates who members of the Tea Party Patriots would likely (at least in theory) also support, Meckler’s comments suggested that the tea party civil war that started with Williams’ anti-NAACP blog post kicked up a firestorm will be hard for conservative superstars on the campaign trail to avoid.
For now, however, that’s exactly what most of them are doing. Angle and Rubio have basically punted questions about the Tea Party Express into discussions about how racist they’re not personally. Meanwhile, the Tea Party Express hasn’t gone away, with its leaders (mostly) continuing to stand by Williams as well as, presumably, the candidates they’ve played a role in getting elected to this point.
Down the road, candidates like Angle — who rely on tea party-sympathetic conservatives for fundraising and votes — may need to shun the TPE, lest they find themselves on the wrong side of groups like the Tea Party Patriots and leaders like Meckler.