Trouble Brewing in Maine's Tea Party
It's a cliché that protest movements begin to splinter as soon as they gain some measure of power.
An analysis of online chatter seems to show this to be true of the Maine Tea Party movement which, after its great success culminating in today's inauguration of Republican Governor Paul LePage, is now losing some of its focus. (Although, to be fair, there has always been some measure of conflict within the group.)
Despite the talk from national media outlets about the possibility of a Tea Party challenge to Senator Olympia Snowe in 2012 and polls showing she's vulnerable on the Right, no serious challenger has emerged. Scott D'amboise has been stalking across the state for months promoting his Tea Party-themed primary campaign without creating much support or excitement and the other rumored opponent, Tea Party spokesperson Andrew Ian Dodge, is more just a colorful character than a credible contender.
Pete "The Carpenter" Harring, the other face and voice of the Maine Tea Party, even went so far as to pooh-pooh Dodge's potential candidacy in print, saying “I think that the press would have a field day with him, just because of his connections over in England — there’s questions about whether he’s a citizen or not.”
This quote prompted members of the Cumberland County Tea Party to accuse Harring of slander for questioning Dodge's citizenship, beginning a back and forth online battle across several Tea Party sites and culminating in a post by Harring titled “Slander are you kidding me?” in which he states that “the chances of [Dodge] being able to win is slim to none. Lets be serious here.[...] I am very much in favor of Snowe Removal and I strongly believe that she must be replaced, but we are wasting our time if we support someone who is not capable of winning the general election.” Harring has since deleted the post but it's still available via Google's cache.
The Tea Partiers have also been riled by some of Governor LePage's actions leading up to his inauguration and there are hints that some are turning against their recent champion. There was consternation in the forums when LePage announced his backing of Senator Snowe for re-election in 2012 and even more when he gave a $41,000-a-year job in his administration to his young daughter.
“For the first time we agree with Dirigo Blue,” wrote the authors of the CCTP site, linking to a critique of LePage's hiring decision posted on the left-leaning weblog.
Some of the movement's members are also apparently gearing up to oppose a rumored appointment of Peter Mills to a cabinet post, something that hasn't occurred or been publicly discussed by the administration.
To have a chance of defeating Snowe, who, no matter what the latest polls say, is a savvy politician with a long history in the Maine Republican party and solid support from much of the GOP establishment, the Tea Partiers will have to coalesce around a single candidate and bring their disparate factions together in one major organizational effort. They certainly aren't there yet.