Tea Party Leaders Endorse Gingrich: High Risk, Low Reward

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: January 28, 2012 3:55 AM
Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich at the Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.

In throwing their support to Newt Gingrich, a group of Florida tea party leaders risk throwing away their clout and credibility, observers of the movement say.

"The Florida Tea Party Coalition With Newt" endorsed the former House speaker on Thursday, saying they would "help defeat Massachusetts Moderate Mitt Romney and then President Barack Obama."

“It is clear to me and many others in the tea party movement that Newt is the Reagan conservative that America needs,” said Peter Lee, founder and director of the East Side Tea Party of Orlando.

Lee was joined by statewide tea leader Patricia Sullivan, who said, “I stand with Newt because I know he will stand up to the establishment and insist on fiscal reforms."

In all, more than 30 Florida-based tea activists signed on to the coalition. The geographically diverse representatives ranged from the Panhandle to Broward County.

Separately, the TEA Party of Florida, the only political tea party registered with the state Division of Elections, endorsed Gingrich.

Chairman John Long said Gingrich "articulated direct and serious steps designed to reduce spending, cut our deficits, pay down our national debt, and return liberty to our citizens in doing so."

But the endorsements may be too little and too late for the former House speaker, whose poll numbers in Florida have slumped amid two lackluster debate performances on Monday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, Gingrich continues to mystify and anger conservatives as he panders on illegal immigration and rationalizes his $1.6 million contract with Freddie Mac while adopting populist poses that resemble left-wing class warfare.

Still, some tea party leaders, fearing the growing inevitability of Romney as the GOP nominee, felt they had to take a stand before Tuesday's Florida primary. Romney is perceived as the "establishment candidate" and widely distrusted by tea party groups, who have received little or no attention from the former Massachusetts governor.

Billie Tucker, leader of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, is not endorsing any candidates, but acknowledges Gingrich has strong appeal in the movement.

Gingrich won 43 percent of the 322 votes cast in a First Coast straw poll on Jan. 17. Ron Paul received 26 percent, Romney garnered 19 percent and Rick Santorum netted 10 percent.

Gingrich's ties to the tea party movement are deep and long-lasting.

In March 2009, when tea parties were just beginning to be organized, the Georgian pledged to use his prodigious mailing list at American Solutions to publicize the inaugural Tax Day event.

He posted a link on every website he owned, sent emails to everyone in his database and produced a video while publicly announcing his support of the tea party movement -- long before radio talkers like Glenn Beck jumped on the bandwagon.

Sullivan, who chairs a statewide tea group called the Tea Party Network, is repaying the favor by mobilizing her Lake County-based "Patriot Army" on Gingrich's behalf.

"Once I decided to support Newt, I got to work and took a group of Patriot Army members to South Carolina where we walked precincts for three days, then waved signs at the polls," Sullivan said.

Then she returned to Florida, where she set up a Gingrich rally at Mount Dora.

"Time for talk is over, we need to be about action. That is why I actively support the candidate I believe will stand up to the establishment and rein in spending," she said.

Explaining the mechanics of the coalition endorsement, Sullivan said, "The leaders and members will share their views with their tea party and actively work to get out the vote for Newt."

"I don't believe another candidate has a coalition of tea party leaders willing to get out and work for their candidate, but I could be wrong."  

Sullivan, who previously supported Herman Cain, said the Tea Party Network is not involved in the endorsement.

Some say the tea endorsement is a risky move, coming after other tea party favorites -- Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry -- each exited the race amid controversy or anemic polls.

"If Gingrich loses, the tea party is over," predicted one veteran tea party activist from South Florida. "If he loses, what does that show you about the clout of the tea party?"

The activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cast his early ballot for Ron Paul this week. "He stands for what we stood for in 2009."

A former executive with the Florida TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party doubts that the coalition backing will help Gingrich much.

"Far more influential was the endorsement of the reconstituted TEA Party of Florida. That tea party has a much-desired email list of over 100,000 opt-in participants. And, unlike the self-pronounced 'tea party coalition,' it has a track record of actually receiving votes for candidates," said Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando-based political consultant who has returned to the Republican Party.
"The 'coalition tea party' backing is one of the last acts of an inflated collection of egos," Guetzloe said. "Their endorsement will make no difference."

Some tea activists steered clear of endorsing out of concern that they might run afoul of election laws or tax codes. Others simply  disagree with Gingrich politically.

Gingrich's infamous couch talk with Nancy Pelosi about "global warming" and his dismissal of Rep. Paul Ryan's entitlement reforms as "right-wing social engineering" fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy.

Illustrating the fractious character of the tea movement, Steve Vernon, vice president of Tea Party Manatee, signed on to the Gingrich coalition, even though Rick Santorum won a straw poll conducted by his group before the South Carolina primary.

Vernon said he and others in his Gulf Coast tea party consider Santorum a "bigger government guy" who repeatedly voted for earmarks as a two-term Pennsylvania senator.

"Some say he can't win," Vernon added.

"We could have a totally different outcome this week. It's still up in the air," Vernon said, emphasizing that the Gingrich tea coalition is made up of individuals, and not binding on groups.

Several large tea organizations remain unaligned. In addition to Tucker's First Coast Tea Party, sizable tea and patriot organizations in Naples, Englewood and Venice are absent from the coalition. The combined membership of these groups is estimated at 15,000.

Still, Tucker does not dispute or begrudge the coalition's action.

"They have chosen to stand up for their guy and that is their decision," she said.

Danita Kilcullen is less sanguine about the process. The chairwoman of Tea Party Fort Lauderdale said she is "appalled" at the endorsements for Gingrich.

"The tea party, of all people, should be aware of his globalist, progressive agenda. He would be my absolute last pick."

Beyond that, Kilcullen said endorsements can create unnecessary "splits and hard feelings" within tea parties.

"Our group overwhelmingly supports Santorum, but it's not right to endorse," she said.

Tea Party Express, a national organization, is holding off on a presidential endorsement, but that could change before Tuesday.

"The movement is coalescing around Gingrich," Amy Kremer, president of Tea Party Express, told Sunshine State News. She said former Rep. J.C. Watts would be standing in for Gingrich at the group's rally in Jacksonville on Saturday.

Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University, said Gingrich is a good fit on at least one level.

"Mitt Romney has never been popular with tea party groups, so it is fairly predictable that they would move toward the most viable non-Romney," Wagner noted.

"With that said, Newt Gingrich has a confrontational style that taps into the anger that many tea party members have. He is a natural candidate on an emotional level, if not a policy one, for the tea party supporters."

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (165)

8:41AM JAN 28TH 2012
Eighty-four ethics charges were filed against Speaker Gingrich during his term, including claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes. However we say it, Mr. Gingrich is all about the money (ask wife number three). In a recent story, “Gingrich was ask to return the estimated $1.6 million he received for providing strategic advice to Freddie Mac, the quasi-government agency (an agency that has lost millions) that guarantees home mortgages. Gingrich has said he acted as a historian, not a lobbyist”. A “historian”, is that the history of greed? He may just sell you a book on it!
8:26AM JAN 28TH 2012
The Republican Base, is the Tea Party. I voted for Newt already. It became clear that Newt was the guy who would take on the Establishment and fight for common sense.

The GOP Establishment or the Media hasn't figured it out yet but the truth of the matter is that the entire full field of candidates including Cain, Bachmann, Huntsman, Perry, and Johnson was for the Tea Party, all about choosing "Anybody but Romney." Romney is not an acceptable choice and his nomination will kill the chance of kicking Obama out. Sure, they will vote for Romney, but they will not work for Romney and millions of us who would GOTV will not be there.
10:06AM JAN 28TH 2012
The GOP field of candidates was a joke this time around, in fact been a joke since 2000. The hypocrisy of the right wing of the GOP never ceases to amaze me. Bachmann, I cannot believe that she's an attorney, Perry shows that any idiot can be elected in TX as long as he belongs to the GOP. Newt, the biggest hypocrite of all, a man who committed adultery on each of his previous wives while proclaiming being a moral person, lobbyist, warmonger. Huntsman would've been the ideal choice but the right wing hypocrites would not have voted for him because he is a Mormon. As a IND I'll vote for Mitt, but if Newt gets the nod I'll vote toward any third party candidate. What burns me is that during the national anthem Newt was casing the audience instead of focusing on the flag, shifty eye devil.
Jon Gethier
12:59PM JAN 28TH 2012
and yet you stay with the same thought process...strange how some people just beg to be fed the same sht over and over and over....
Robert Allen Schledwitz
8:02AM JAN 28TH 2012
As Newt's success or failure goes in Florida, so too goes the creditability and influence of the Tea Party there in Tuesday's Primary and afterwards across the rest of the nation. I admire people who take chances. They risk the most to lose yet also have the most to win. A crossing of the Rubicon if you will. It is an act of courage. There is, to me anyway, just some innate mean streak in the man I have always disliked. He appeals strongest to audiences who have a bitter bone to chew. The voters on Tuesday will show if him and his followers are in fact, the majority, or will instead be relegated to the dustbin of American political extremist parties. The whole country will be watching intensely.
10:51AM JAN 28TH 2012
You have it exactly right--Gingrich has an "innate mean streak". It smacks less of righteous indignation and more of someone who would think it was funny seeing a crippled person slip on ice. There is something disturbing about the man that suggests a lack of basic decency.
westpalm 12
6:56PM JAN 28TH 2012
Great observation Ajord. He is one sick puppy.
10:09AM JAN 28TH 2012
Totally agree with you.
7:50AM JAN 28TH 2012
Multibillionaire casino gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife have given Newt Gingrich $10 million which is less than .05% of their estimated $21.5 billion worth and pledged more. Looks like they intend to buy Newt Gingrich the United States presidency so he can serve Bibi Netanyahu and Israel. That is, sacrifice way more American lives and money on the Jewish state's Mideast wars that are wholly against the interests of America and all humanity. Limiting political donations is limiting free speech according to the Supreme Court. So what are our influence, our votes, worth vs. Sheldon Adelson's? Way less than three fifths; actually close to nothing at all. Whatever has become of our American Democracy?
Al Hook
12:44PM JAN 28TH 2012
Whoever - D or R - ends up in the WH will continue present US Middle East policies.
7:48AM JAN 28TH 2012
American democracy is broken. The irrefutable evidence is our not only allowing, but actually financing Israel's ongoing cruel and illegal Mideast aggression. Israel has usurped control by corrupting our politicians and entire electoral system. All our Mideast wars have been against our interests, yet successfully advocated by the Jewish state. Again against our interests, Israel has involved us in increasingly overt operations against Iran. Spies and American military drones in Iranian airspace are the most recent revelations. Since before 9/11, American soldiers have been dying for the Jewish state. We are at war. Those that did this to us are the lobbyists, organizers, columnists, financiers, AIPAC and other traitorous Israel Firsters. Justice and the future of America demand they be prosecuted and punished.
Merrill Bender
7:46AM JAN 28TH 2012
What are Romney's conservative credentials? What Conservative issues has he fought for? Or has he just been a manager / finance guy in business ? He hired others to manage and grow businesses- his group just financed them.
There are successful democratic businessman and successful republican businessman. Which has Romney been? He contributed to democrats and voted for Paul Tsongas. Romney only has won one election in a small democratic state. To win, he ran away from Reagan and Bush ideals to win. His one major accomplishment in office was Romney Care. His resume qualifies him to be a Democratic VP candidate not the Republican nominee for President in 2012. He is still this same guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama 4 years a go. Romney is not electable against Obama but his is perfect to replace Joe Biden as VP
7:34AM JAN 28TH 2012
Reagan conservative? Please, they conjure a 30 year old horror story?
get a grip.
7:16AM JAN 28TH 2012
If the Republican Party Establishment is truly smart (and the jury is still out on that one), it should be asking itself if Gingrich hasn't already destroyed Romney
6:55AM JAN 28TH 2012
Newt's comments on putting a city on the moon should have killed his run. What in the world(planet earth) anyone in their right mind do supporting this nut? The Reagan years have be romanticized and you people are living in a dream land. A vote for Romney or Gingrich is perpetuating the problems we have and its getting really late.

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