Mark Meckler has just resigned from the leadership of the Tea Party Patriots, an organization he and Jenny Beth Martin, started in 2009. Because Meckler was the most visible exponent of a fundamentalist grassroots orientation to political activism within the movement, it’s hard not to read these tea leaves to discover something larger about the movement.
Meckler tells a story of his activism that starts with him as a lawyer and small businessman in Northern California, generally disaffected from politics. Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC inspired him to take his family to an early Tea Party rally shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, and then build an independent non-partisan national organization to support grassroots activism. It’s a good story.
But it’s not a complete story. It edits out Meckler’s paid work as a political consultant for Republican candidates for office both before and during the Tea Party. It also edits out his successful career as a distributor–and recruiter–for Herbalife, a nutritional supplements company that subsists through multi-level marketing. (See Stephanie Mencimer’s 2010 profile at Mother Jones.)
Meckler’s role in the Tea Party was always to emphasize the grassroots. Tea Party Patriots was the national organization that provided affiliations for local Tea Party groups, and promised support as well. The TPP model was all about initiative from below, and working hard to avoid being coopted by the Republican Party or demanding Washington-based groups. The vision of sustained democracy from below, explained very well by Jonathan Rauch, promised independence, autonomy, and true authenticity. (In the article, Rauch quotes me as someone skeptical of this promise.)
Oddly, Meckler’s resignation coincides with the publication of his book, Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution, co-authored with Jenny Beth Martin, and the requisite publicity tour.
[Perhaps it’s less odd that it follows Meckler’s plea to “disorderly conduct” for trying to carry a gun and ammunition on a plane at LaGuardia airport. Meckler declared the weapon, which he was licensed to carry in California–but not New York. So much for local control.]
The Tea Party Patriots refused to work with Tea Party Express on candidate forums that included Mitt Romney, and criticized John Boehner for compromising with Democrats in the Senate and the Oval Office, most notably on raising the debt ceiling. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Meckler and Martin survey the current Republican field of candidates and find them wanting. From The Blaze:
“Nobody is satisfied with the candidates out there,” says Martin. “They’re all losers.”
Her other cofounder, Mark Meckler, doesn’t feel any different. “They’ve caved on every single point of principle since the Republican majority has taken over,” he says.
So why leave the grassroots-oriented group?
At the Daily Caller, Alex Pappas reports the Meckler was frustrated that the group was abandoning the grassroots, and that he had lost a leadership struggle to his co-author, Martin:
…Meckler told the state coordinators of Tea Party Patriots on Thursday night that he “fought long and hard” to maintain the group “as an organization that is run from the bottom up, with the intent of serving the grassroots.”
“Unfortunately, it is my belief that I have lost this fight,” Meckler said. “I probably fought the internal fight longer than I should have, but I wanted to give absolutely every possible effort to preserving what I believe was the unique nature of the TPP organization.”
Since the organization’s founding, Meckler has shared the role of national coordinator with co-founder Jenny Beth Martin. But Meckler wrote in the email that he had lost “influence in the leadership of the organization, and it has been that way for quite some time.”
Meckler said the board granted Martin “almost complete power over the day-to-day operations” in November 2011 after a “protracted fight in which I was complaining about the direction, operation (top-down) and finances of the organization.”
Details followed over the next few days. Meckler charged that the national had become successful at raising and spending money, but not at supporting the grassroots groups. He was angry in particular about $250,000 spent to co-sponsor a Republican primary debate, which–in addition to misusing funds, made it appear that TPP was hardly non-partisan or independent. TPP, he said, “…felt like it had become much more a top down organization.”
I suspect more is on the way.
In the meantime, our first read is that the biggest promoter of the Tea Party as a decentralized grassroots movement has left the organization he started because it had become more focused on party politics and organizational influence–at the expense of the grassroots.