The Tea Party’s biggest supporter in Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.), ended her bid last night for a seat at the Republican leadership table. Bachmann was running against Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R–Tex.) for Republican Conference Chair, the fourth-ranking position in the House. Bachmann said she will continue to lead through her Tea Party Caucus in Congress, although the name of the group is in question.
“Jeb Henserling [sic] has my enthusiastic support for his candidacy to become Republican House Conference Chair. Jeb has demonstrated his commitment to limited government[,] reduced spending[,] and lower taxes[,] and he will be a strong voice for the Tea Party’s call for these values,” said Bachmann in a written statement released at 8 pm on Wednesday.
“I look forward to continuing my consistent support of the Tea Party. I plan to advance the Tea Party ideals through their listening arm, the Tea Party Caucus. It is my wish to bring new faces to the Caucus, including freshmen members,” she said.
Although Bachmann never seemed to have the votes needed to issue a serious challenge to Hensarling, her decision to drop out of the race surprised and disappointed Tea Party activists.
“I’m sorry to see her step down because she has been one of the few to push the Tea Party movement principles to the forefront in Congress,” said Jamie Radtke of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots. “My hope would be that she would continue to exert leadership in Congress and reach out to the in-coming freshmen and see what impact they can have with the Tea Party Caucus.”
Radtke said that the influence of the Tea Party in Congress will not be diminished by Bachmann’s decision. “I don’t think the Tea Party in Congress necessarily needs any sort of specific leader. That’s one of the things that’s been so powerful about the Tea Party movement at a grassroots level, that it’s been leaderless,” she said.
“I think that even in Congress, if it’s a broad coalition of Tea Party legislators, working together as a mass coalition, and keeping each other accountable, and working together on legislation, that would actually be more powerful than having one particular person, who all of a sudden becomes the target of the left and the moderates,” said Radtke.
“That’s not to besmirch anything that Bachmann has done because she’s advanced our goals in an admirable way in Congress. She’s definitely been a benefit to us,” added Radtke.
The future of the Tea Party Caucus, which Bachmann founded, is in question. On Monday, in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS, Bachmann said that “One thing I plan to do when I go back—I announced this several months ago—was to reformulate the Tea Party Caucus as the ‘Constitutional Conservative Caucus.’ We may call it that, or we may just start a new caucus.”
“I don’t want to just do this unilaterally. I want to get the input from fellow members who have been involved in the Tea Party Caucus to see if this is the direction they want to go,” she explained.
Asked for reaction to Bachmann’s changing the name of the Caucus, Radtke said that “branding is important in keeping the name ‘Tea Party’ both in Congress and around the country because the media is eager to jump on the boat that the Tea Party movement is ‘dying’ or ‘dwindling’. So if we start changing the name, even though we might still be around, it might not be evident.”
Radtke said that if members of Congress “are not bold enough to join because it says ‘Tea Party Caucus,’ then how bold are they going to be to seriously cut spending, or to reform entitlements, or to cut the debt?”
“If they are being wimps about joining something that has the name ‘Tea Party’ attached to it, that’s not saying much. You change the name so they’ll join your caucus, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get anything else out of them,” she added.
Asked for clarification of the future of the Tea Party Caucus, Bachmann’s spokesman emailed that the “Congresswoman will continue to be the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus. The name was never up for a change. There was a possibility of an additional caucus to be created, but now all the energy will be devoted to the Tea Party Caucus.”
Radtke, however, looks to the members themselves to stand up for the principles of the Tea Party. “Hopefully, we have a voice by the volume of Tea Party freshmen coming in,” she said. They need to “keep a tough coalition, and work together, and not get sucked into the D.C. vortex.”