Many observers have opined on the Tea Party movement's loose organization. There really wasn't one clearly identifiable leader of the Tea Party. It was, and still is, mostly a conglomeration of local activists feeding off of the energy of one another. More importantly, the Tea Party is not a political party, per se. It has no national committee. It has no chairman, subcommittees or fundraising organization. Some groups have filed the paperwork to gain recognition as a party in some states, but there is no national effort to create a bona fide third party made up of Tea Party activists. That creates some challenges for the movement, as its amorphousness and lack of national organization makes it difficult for a single, easily communicated message to emerge.
With the selection of Rand Paul as the Republican nominee for the Kentucky Senate seat, things have changed. Paul is the quintessential Tea Party darling. His Libertarian views--while not as outre as those of his father--coincide with the movement's flavor of conservatism, and he beat the candidate favored by the GOP party establishment. Libertarianism and anti-elitism are two strong currents within the Tea Party and Paul rode them right into the November general election.
But what has also changed is that the left, and its media co-conspirators, now have a target, a face if you will, upon which to train their guns. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that Paul can avoid giving them all the ammunition they need to blow him out of the water. Within 36 hours of securing the GOP nomination, Paul made two controversial comments to media interviewers. In the first, he criticized the scope of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying that the law should not have reached so deeply into the private sector. In the second, he criticized the Obama regime's "boot on the throat of BP" treatment in regards to the Gulf Oil Spill. Whether you agree with Paul on these issues or not (I strongly disagree on the first point; strongly agree on the second) it is clear that he has given opponents the opportunity to employ the left's tried-and-true method of using identity politics to isolate their targets and viciously attack them.
The left and the media wasted absolutely no time in launching their attacks, comparing Paul to Lester Maddox and mischaracterizing his comments about BP as a defense of the company. You can expect the left's stridency to increase in both breadth and intensity over the next five months or so. Everything Paul has said will be scrutinized, taken out of context, and used to drive a negative image of the candidate. He will get absolutely no benefit of the doubt, whatsoever. If something he says sounds extreme, or if can be made to sound extreme, it will be. The media will pounce on it, and the leftist pols will repeat the talking points in the print and broadcast media. Paul's opponent in the race, Jack Conway, will be given all the airtime and bandwidth he needs to parrot the attacks. It's inevitable--this is how the left has operated for decades.
What we can hope for is that somehow, Mr. Paul gets some practical advice from those with experience in handling the leftist assault vehicle. He needs to remember that he is seeking to become the junior United States Senator from Kentucky. He needs to stay off national television. He needs to understand that the practicality and pragmatism needed for good government sometimes runs counter to ideology purity. He needs to stop talking about abolishing entire cabinet-level departments until a large consensus can be developed on doing so. And, he needs to stay on a message that convinces Kentuckians that, between Rand Paul and Jack Conway, Rand Paul is the best choice.
Extra Point: Conway is a well funded, articulate candidate and the 2004 Senate race was a nailbiter, with veteran Jim Bunning winning with 50.7% of the vote. This race is competitive...