Tea Party Is Boots On the Ground For Republican Party

By  //  November 5, 2012

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OPINION – Reflections by a Political Rookie

With the help of radio talk show appearances coast-to-coast across the I-4 corridor, speeches to more than a dozen Tea Party and Republican groups, word got around quickly about www.NixBillNelson.com. Billboards like the one above went up in Merritt Island, Orlando, Tampa and Clearwater – and a batch of radio spots were running on a dozen stations from West Palm to The Villages. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

During my 3-plus decades as a sports journalist, I paid only cursory attention to politics. Like too many others, I voted primarily on name recognition, with limited knowledge of what those politicians actually do in Tallahassee or Washington. All I knew for sure, in my final few years as syndicated lead sports columnist at the Orlando Sentinel, was that the paper for which I worked disturbingly crafted news presentation to an agenda that was steeped in shadowy negatives for Republicans and manufactured, shameless support for Democrats and homosexuals.

Although basically a conservative, I voted according to my shallow perspectives of individual candidates. I even voted for Democrat Bill Nelson when he ran for the US Senate six years ago. He had been a occasional acquaintance when I wrote for the Sentinel. We bumped into one another at Orlando functions and he seemed sincere, quick with that banker’s smile and compliments about my columns. (The latter should have been the first clue!)

Bill Nelson’s challenger, Rep Connie Mack, has acknowledged NixBillNelson.com has had a significant impact in helping him wipe out Nelson’s early 8-point lead in the polls. (NixBillNelson.com image)

When I left the Sentinel, I had more time to follow news that wasn’t related to Tiger’s arrogance or some baseball player’s claim that he couldn’t feed his family on that paltry $10 million contract offer. I began to realize how two-faced Nelson was — saying something “moderate” in Florida, then voting for any extreme left policy his party put forth.

Then a wondrous thing happened this past summer. I became involved with a group of five blue-collar friends who didn’t want to settle for simply casting their singular votes in the November elections. They wanted to make a difference, despite very limited financial resources. I agreed to become their volunteer spokesman and web site editor, and NixBillNelson.com was launched August 1 and yard signs were ordered, nearly depleting the meager opening funds after each of us chipped in $250. We were now going to be a political super-pac on $1,500. We were going to do the same thing those multi-million-dollar pacs were doing — except we would be distributing no shadowy half-truths or outright lies the two major parties were slinging at one another.

Over the next three months, I had a ball, marveling at the widespread acceptance of the site, speaking to more than two dozen Tea Party and Republican groups, touting the web site on radio talk shows throughout the state — and developing a disappointing realization about the Tea Party grassroots patriots and the establishment Republican party.

TEA PARTY VS. REPUBLICAN PARTY

What I discovered is that Tea Party members are genuine, passionate, well-organized conservatives, while the establishment Republican Party is largely bumbling, arrogant and disorganized. Tea Party members are the boots on the ground, happy to plant yard signs, go door-to-door stumping for conservative candidates, make real phone calls (not robo-calls.) Republicans seem concerned they might damage their manicures; going door-to-door seems beneath their dignity.

What I discovered is that Tea Party members are genuine, passionate, well-organized conservatives, while the establishment Republican Party is largely bumbling, arrogant and disorganized. Tea Party members are the boots on the ground, happy to plant yard signs, go door-to-door stumping for conservative candidates, make real phone calls (not robo-calls.) Republicans seem concerned they might damage their manicures; going door-to-door seems beneath their dignity.

My intro to official Republic-dom was a VERY brief address to the Orange County GOP leaders a few days after the Republican Convention. They seemed more intent on bragging about how late they stayed up partying in Tampa and which TV news personalities they saw from nearly close range. I was alloted two minutes at the very end of the meeting. And although the group seemed interested in hearing about our unique NixBillNelson project, the head of the Orange GOP, Lew Oliver, cut me off at precisely the 2-minute mark and adjourned the meeting.

This is the same Lew Oliver who squelched the political aspirations of Lou Holtz, the famed football coach and now ESPN college football analyst. Holtz, who lives in the posh Lake Nona conclave near Orlando International, had become disturbed by the liberal agenda of the Democrat Congresswoman who was the U.S. Representative from his district and expressed a desire to run against her in the 2010 midterms. An emissary passed along this good news to Oliver, who sneered: “Lou Holtz? Nobody’s heard of him. It’s not like he is Don Shula or somebody.”

Lew Oliver

When the remark got back to Holtz, the coach’s considerable ego was fatally wounded. Others urged him to run, anyway, but he declined. Two years later, when a Georgia GOP Congressman teamed up with me to persuade Holtz into running this year against Bill Nelson for a Senate seat, Holtz was still smarting from Oliver’s snub. “No, they’ve made it clear they don’t want me,” he said of the GOP.

Lou Holtz

A witty and absolutely magical speaker, Holtz would have beaten Nelson, I am confident, by 30 points.

A week after the GOP Convention, I visited the Romney/GOP headquarters closest to my Orlando home, seeking some Romney yard signs for my neighbors. The young lady in charge lamented that it would be another week or two before they had signs. I had her call up NixBillNelson.com to show that I was involved in the effort to replace Nelson with a conservative. She was happy for me to leave several NixBillNelson yard signs for any supporters who visited the office.

It became clear to me that the Republican Party might never get another candidate elected if not for the Tea Party saving their bacon. Yet, the establishment Republicans look down their noses at Tea Party folk, generally acting as if trying not to notice they smell bad. But what would one expect from a national party of wimps that doesn’t seem to realize you can’t fight Chicago thugs by the Marques of Queensbury rules and sat back meekly allowing all four debates to be moderated by liberal TV news anchors. They couldn’t fight for even one conservative moderator? As a result, Romney got less time and had to battle through more interruptions from Obama and the President’s supportive moderators.

Ten days later, I went to that office again, but the young lady sighed and said they still had no signs from FLorida GOP headquarters. Noticing that my NixBillNelson signs were gone, I said at least I could supply her with more of those signs. She blushed and said the GOP told her she couldn’t distribute those signs, and pulled the ones I had left out of a closet.

I was stunned. Aren’t we on the same side here? Don’t we both want to fire liberal, two-faced Bill Nelson? She said her hands were tied by a memo from GOP headquarters. I asked for the name of the person on that memo, so I could call and introduce some reason into this effort. She refused to give me the name.

It was another 10 days before the neighborhood offices were supplied with Romney/Ryan signs, but the offices were required to CHARGE three bucks for each one. In the meantime, Tea Party groups were covering the county with FREE yard signs pushing Connie Mack, Dan Webster and other conservatives, holding well-attended rallies, registering new voters and lighting up the phone lines.

It became clear to me that the Republican Party might never get another candidate elected if not for the Tea Party saving their bacon. Yet, the establishment Republicans look down their noses at Tea Party folk, generally acting as if trying not to notice they smell bad.

But what would one expect from a national party of wimps that doesn’t seem to realize you can’t fight Chicago thugs by the Marques of Queensbury rules and sat back meekly allowing all four debates to be moderated by liberal TV news anchors. They couldn’t fight for even one conservative moderator? As a result, Romney got less time and had to battle through more interruptions from Obama and the President’s supportive moderators.

Rep Connie Mack IV

The first of my 22 speeches to Tea Party groups was the West Orange Club, which enthusiastically embraced NixBillNelson.com, devoured all the yard signs I could supply and provided me with contact information for a dozen other Tea Party clubs, all of which have extensive web sites. They went home, called up our site and sent the web address to all of their email contacts. The day after each Tea Party address saw a spike in hits on our site.

When the lone debate between Nelson and Mack was televised live throughout Florida, the Orange GOP established a “watch party” at a sports bar in downtown Orlando. I offered to donate a box of my books, which I would sign and forward all proceeds to the Mack campaign. A well-meaning young lady named Melody was in charge and welcomed my offer. When I arrived with 64 books and a batch of NixBillNelson yard signs, Melody greeted me warmly and expressed confidence that “at least 15 supporters” would attend.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

“Fifteen!!!??” I exclaimed. What about two hundred? Or three hundred? Only if the Tea Party had run this function.

Melody said she had called “several” friends to ask them to attend. There were twenty who showed up, and at least a dozen of those were officials of various Tea Party clubs, who had been organized by a Freedom Works employee.

Equally eye-opening was the stiff arm I experienced from my old Orlando Sentinel and Cocoa-based Florida Today, the two “home” papers of our original five “regular Joes.”

My years as a journalist affirmed to me this was a worthy and charming news story. The mere notion that a bartender, used-car salesman, construction worker and two middle-class retirees might tip the balance in a U.S. Senate race is a heckuva story.

No matter how the vote comes in on Tuesday, I’m proud of the effort by our little scruffy group and all of the REAL Americans I met along the way. I enjoyed immensely the process, even if it distracted me from my income-producing endeavors in semi-retirement.

Several state newspapers agreed and carried stories about the effort. An old friend still on the Sentinel staff also agreed and set up an appointment with the Sentinel‘s prime political reporter, Scott Powers. But when I showed up at the paper and called for Powers from the lobby, he refused to even come out and talk to me. When I called back to ask why a 28-year veteran of that paper doesn’t at least deserve an audience, he stabbed me with the stinging insult that he felt I was only trying to personally profit from the project and he had no interest in it. At least the political columnist at Florida Today agreed to talk to me — once — but never printed a word even though there were strong local angles to the story. Nelson lived in the Space Coast for years before moving to a more toney address in Orlando. And one of the first billboards (see top of story) our group funded through donations went up in Merritt Island, not far from Today offices.

No matter how the vote comes in on Tuesday, I’m proud of the effort by our little scruffy group and all of the REAL Americans I met along the way. I enjoyed immensely the process, even if it distracted me from my income-producing endeavors in semi-retirement.

WHY IS MEDIA SO LIBERAL?

Due to repeated questions from the audience, one of my main subjects in Tea Party addresses came to be my explanation of why newspapers and other media outlets were so predominantly liberal.

My take is this: Journalism schools now crank out herds of graduates whose brains have been turned into liberal mush by far-left college professors. These grads first began showing up on the Sentinel staff in the mid-eighties. At first, the solid leadership of the paper swatted down their lefty views. But over time, these J-school grads began moving up the ladder and transformed the culture of the paper. They hired only like-minded applicants and created an insular environment where they could assure one another they were right.

My take is this: Journalism schools now crank out herds of graduates whose brains have been turned into liberal mush by far-left college professors. These grads first began showing up on the Sentinel staff in the mid-eighties. At first, the solid leadership of the paper swatted down their lefty views. But over time, these J-school grads began moving up the ladder and transformed the culture of the paper. They hired only like-minded applicants and created an insular environment where they could assure one another they were right.

My stock in trade was breaking stories, local and national, sports and regular news. I did that because I had gained the trust of movers and shakers, attended their parties, playing golf with them, etc. But the young liberals who gained control of the paper disdained my tactics as consorting with the enemy — ie, those evil business capitalists. If any of them had the audacity to get involved in politics, dark stories about them would appear in the paper, based on unconfirmed rumors or even blatant falsehoods.

Buddy Dwyer

When Buddy Dwyer, a liberal career politician, and Pete Barr, a longtime Orlando advertising exec, ran for mayor, the Sentinel sided unabashedly with Dwyer, who openly pandered to gays. Conversely, the outspoken Barr was against special ordinances for gays.

Pete Barr

So when Barr surpassed Dwyer in a poll two weeks before the election, the Sentinel “broke” a story that openly-lesbian councilwoman Patty Sheehan recalled hearing Barr use the “N-word” at a cocktail party several years earlier. Barr denied it and no one came forward to affirm Sheehan’s damning claim.

Nevertheless, the Sentinel launched a series of Page 1A stories poisoning Barr with the “N-word” story. And in case that didn’t do the trick, the paper ran — get this — eight straight lead editorials damning Barr. One editorial is an endorsement. Eight is yellow journalism at its zenith. I think that was when I canceled my free subscription for company retirees.

Not surprisingly, Dwyer won.

And journalistic integrity lost.

Larry Guest is the author of six books, including two bestsellers, and was the syndicated lead sports columnist at the Orlando Sentinel for 28 years until he negotiated an early retirement package in 2000. He has been published in a number of national magazines and has won numerous state and national writing awards. He and his wife, Mary, split their time between their Orlando home and Cape Canaveral beach condo and both remain satisfyingly busy in “semi-retirement.” 


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