Don't Retreat, Reload: Sarah Palin, Allen West, Rick Santorum Encourage Tea Party to Keep Fighting
SEVIERVILLE, TENNESSEE—Waiting to get into a major Tea Party rally here in the hometown of Dolly Parton, attendees were disgruntled as they stood in line waiting to get through security.
But it wasn’t the long lines waiting to get inside the convention center that frustrated them, it was the Sen. Thad Cochran’s victory over the more conservative Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi runoff race.
“I had a hard time sleeping, because I was so angry,” Sevier Tea Party group chairman Steve Osborn said as he smoked a cigarette before the rally.
In conversations with attendees, and from the stage as Former Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. Rick Santorum, and Rep. Allen West addressed the crowd of about 500, the anger about Cochran's controversial electoral tactics was palpable.
Tennessee is considered an important battleground in the fight by Tea Party activists in 2014, as conservative challenger Joe Carr is challenging the establishment Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).
Carr, wasn't at the rally, but spoke with Breitbart News by phone, asserting that his race was more important than ever given the outcome in Mississippi.
Osborn, whose Tea Party group co-sponsored the event, decried Republicans that had “prostituted themselves” to the Democratic base simply to stay in power.
Other attendees shared the same sentiment.
“Honestly I was just so pissed, I was just so mad,” said Rick, a man from Knoxville, Tennessee.
“It was probably the dirtiest thing in politics that I have ever seen,” he said about the Cochran campaign’s tactics.
“I try not to take this stuff personally,” said Josh, a 26-year-old man from Bradley County who attended the rally with his wife and child, describing the results of the race as “frustrating.”
“We’re trying so hard to change the mindset and kind of get back to what we believe in and let people know we’re modern and believe in modern solutions,” he said.
Cochran’s ploy, he believed, was an example of cynical politics and he was disappointed with the tactics in the Republican party.
“When stuff like that happens, it doesn’t come across as you’re reaching across the aisle, it makes you look desperate,” he said.
“I think it was dead wrong, I just didn’t like the way he did it,” said Larry, a man from Knoxville, pointing out that it reflected bad on the Republican party.
He admitted that although Cochran often voted as a conservative, it was an ugly mark on his career.
“It just puts a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” he said.
“I was completely appalled and disgusted – it wasn’t an honest race,” explained Clare, a woman who attended the rally with her husband Steve.
The couple wore t-shirts to show support for the conservative challenger to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN in the Republican primary, Joe Carr.
Like Cochran, Alexander is taking heat from conservatives for working with Democrats in the Senate - and voting with President Obama.
Clare explained that like Cochran, Alexander would likely rely on support from Democrats to win his election as well - as the state has an open primary.
“Lamar Alexander supports open primaries,” she said, “I think its very clear why, I don’t think he could win if we had closed primaries … he knows it, he needs the Democratic crossover.”
Members of the crowd were keenly aware of Alexander’s record in Washington D.C. and appeared ready to vote him out.
“I think Lamar Alexander is a total sell out, and he’s establishment, he’s too old he’s been there too long, he has no vision for our future,” said Kurt, a man who attended the rally with his son.
He admitted that Carr faced a tough race against a well-funded incumbent
“It’s hard to tackle a giant,” he said, concerned about the funding that Alexander was going to get from the “country club group” of Republicans.
“I’m a Joe Carr fan,” Larry said, calling him a “top drawer” candidate.
But he was also concerned that Carr was facing an uphill battle.
“I don’t think he’s got a shot at it, because Alexander is so ensconced in this state, but I hope I’m wrong,” he said. “I hope we have another Eric Cantor type thing going on here.”
“He’s a RINO, but he’s from my hometown,” said Susan, who wore a red “Beat Lamar” T-shirt who attended the event with her sister. She was particularly upset with his support for the immigration reform bill, which she blamed for the crisis on the border particularly the surge of children illegal immigrants crossing the border.
“Personally, I don’t feel real good about any U.S. Senator that votes with Obama 62 percent of the time,” said a Sonny, a retired banker who has been involved in Republican politics for a long time. “He does play the piano real nice though.”
Only one attendee at the rally, a local Republican politician, defended Alexander as a conservative who deserved re-election.
The group of political activists were keenly aware of the disruption in the party, and sought encouragement from three of their political champions who also faced tough losses - former Governor Sarah Palin, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Rep. Allen West.
Mississippi was also on their minds as well.
“That was a disgrace,” West said. “That was not standing on principal that’s not standing up for what you believe in, that was just a career politician that just wants to go back to Washington D.C. That was despicable, it’s immoral and it’s disgusting.”
Palin also disparaged the Republican party for their actions in Mississippi.
“Well shoot, our own party was proving this last week, to potentially manipulate and exterminate the integrity of a primary election,” she said, pointing out that the “the bloated political clash from both sides were trying to discourage people aligned with the Tea Party.
Santorum also encouraged attendees to continue fighting in spite of the loss.
The message he wanted to send, he told Breitbart News after his speech, was for conservatives to not get discouraged.
“America’s bigger than that, it’s not about one battle its about fighting for what you believes is what is right for the country and staying engaged, we’re not allowed to get discouraged,” he said.
West offered a similar message in his speech.
“This is not our last stand it is our greatest stand,” he said. "Plant the flag. Make a stand."
Palin reminded activists that the results should inspire them to redouble their efforts, pointing out that the establishment politicians would try to discourage them.
“It does make a difference,” she said. “What you are doing makes a difference and now more than ever we need to ramp it up. Don’t retreat, we gotta reload.”
In spite of their frustration, Palin soon had the crowd laughing as she peppered her speech with political jokes and taking shots against President Obama and his allies.
West, a University of Tennessee graduate, led the crowd in a rendition of the song Rocky Top, much to the delight of the crowd.
Palin took the stage acknowledging that Sevierville was Dolly Parton’s home town, explaining that she once dressed up as Parton for Halloween when she was in High School.
She also reminded them that the media was also trying to sound a death knell for the Tea Party but it was very much alive.
“Us bitter clingers and wingers, we ignored those yappin' little lapdogs in the media and with a new social media kind of reporting you know we were able to kick those little varmints away, we were able to ignore what it was that they were saying,” she said.
Palin held up Sen. Ted Cruz as an example of a Washington politician that was fighting for them, and explained that it was more important than ever to send him allies in his fight against the Washington establishment.
“He is there for a reason not a season, and that’s what we need more of,” she said. “We need to send the good guys reinforcements to take the battle to Capitol Hill for us.”
Although she hasn’t endorsed Joe Carr yet in his primary, Palin dropped a hint to Tennessee voters that he was one of their allies.
“We need to be pretty discerning here of what kind of ‘Carr’ we send to D.C.,” she said as Carr supporters in the hall cheered.
Carr, however, was not at the rally as the set block of speakers had already been set.
On the phone, he told Breitbart News that since he was not invited to speak at the rally, he had scheduled events elsewhere in the state.
Organizers of the rally explained early on that if local political figures wanted to attend, they would have to purchase tickets.
“If I can’t be speaking, I’ve got other places where I can speak for free,” Carr explained.
Other longshot candidates running against Carr and Alexander, did buy tickets and worked the crowd as they came in passing out campaign literature.
Carr declined to comment about whether Palin or Santorum had decided to endorse him, but he said that his campaign had already had “productive” conversations with both camps.
He hoped that the rally would inspire Tea Party supporters to stay involved and believe in his campaign.
The Tea Party in Tennessee, Carr said, was “very very very well organized.”
“That’s three veries if your counting,” he said.
in 2012, the Tea Party groups held a vote deciding to support Carr in the fight to defeat Lamar Alexander.
Carr said that McDaniel would have won by at least five points in Mississippi, if the establishment hadn’t worked to “steal an election” by reaching out to Democrats.
He denied that the Cochran victory would affect his own campaign negatively.
“We’re finding that because of that race, there is a great deal of anger and righteous indignation, honestly this has created a great bit of fuel for the fire that is our campaign,” he said.