Fissured teabags

FISSURED TEABAGS…. Many on the right believe the burgeoning Tea Party “movement” is the key to a resurgent conservatism nationwide. But it’s hard not to notice that the divisions among Teabaggers will need to be resolved sooner or later.

In the latest sign of rancor in Tea Party circles, a convention billed as an effort to bring together conservative activists from across the country is being attacked by some leading Tea Partiers as inauthentic, too tied to the GOP, and — at $549 per head — too expensive for the working Americans the movement aspires to represent.

The National Tea Party Convention, scheduled for early February in Nashville, grabbed headlines after announcing that Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann would appear as speakers, Palin as the keynote. According to a message on the convention’s website, the event “is aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation.” But organizers are a long way from unifying the notoriously fractious movement.

Tea Party Patriots, which helped put together a September rally that drew tens of thousands to Washington, view the confab — which is being held at Nashville’s swank Opryland Gaylord hotel — as the “usurpation of a grassroots movement,” according to Mark Meckler, a leader of the group. “Most people in our movement can’t afford anything like that,” Meckler told TPMmuckraker, referring to the price tag. “So it’s really not aimed at the average grassroots person.”

“The Tea Party Movement is about to be hijacked,” wrote one activist in an online comment recently.

Much of the recent complaints have to do with money — the National Tea Party Convention’s unusually-high ticket prices are turning activists off, as are the exorbitant speaking fees (by some estimates, Sarah Palin is getting as much as $100,000 to appear). Erick Erickson, a prominent right-wing blogger, compared the event to a Nigerian scam email and said Palin should not attend.

But there’s ample evidence that the disagreements among Tea Party activists go deeper than this. There are some pretty fundamental questions it seems the “movement” needs to address.

* What is it, exactly? Are Teabaggers a grassroots “movement,” a marketing enterprise, a new activist organization, a political party, or something else altogether? Or some combination? It’s unclear.

* What does it want? Do these activists intend to strengthen a wing of the Republican Party, or fight from outside the GOP structure?

* Where does it want to go? Some Tea Party folks are libertarian-minded, with an emphasis on the size of government. Others are religious-right-style activists, concerned about abortion and gays. Who’s behind the wheel? Will there be two Tea Parties?

* What does it intend to offer? The Tea Party gang wants government to cut spending, but it doesn’t say where. It wants policymakers to reduce the deficit, but it doesn’t say how. Activists take all kinds of positions on all kinds of issues, but most of them seem misplaced and confused about basic details. Is there some kind of policy platform in the works, or will they stick to vague right-wing generalities?

These details matter. And given the divisions over the increasingly-bizarre National Tea Party Convention, the fissures may not be resolved anytime soon.