Does the Tea Party Express take tokens?

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In a politically naïve attempt to appear non-partisan, the Tea Party Express recently endorsed freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), the only Democrat in the nation (so far) to land the backing of this group that is vying for a leading role within the Tea Party movement.

Following the endorsement, Tea Party Express spokesman Sal Russo said, “We can’t be just a Republican organization.” Russo also stated that Democrats who “are willing to stand up to Pelosi and Reid” should receive Tea Party support with the hope that other Democrats will follow suit.

It is difficult to take Russo’s words at face value, because the Minnick endorsement reeks of being a public-relations move more than a thoughtful outreach to a potential convert to the cause of limited government. Especially when there is an obviously better candidate already challenging the incumbent Minnick for this Congressional seat:

The GOP frontrunner in this race (and likely Minnick opponent this fall) Vaughn Ward is a true conservative—both fiscally and socially. Ward has served his country honorably, earning the Bronze Star with Combat V (Valor) in the Marines, and as a CIA Operations Officer.

As a political candidate, Ward is a savvy and tireless campaigner—breaking the record for fundraising in an Idaho GOP Congressional primary. He has earned the endorsement of Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin. Having worked alongside, Ward on the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, we can honestly tell you that he is a no-nonsense, humble conservative who will put the interests of his constituents ahead of his own.

So why Minnick? Published reports indicate that the Tea Party Express didn’t even consult with Idaho Tea Party groups (or even the Minnick campaign) before the organization made its endorsement. Minnick, who voted to elect Nancy Pelosi to Speaker of the House, is seeking reelection in one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts (McCain received 62 percent of the district’s vote in 2008). It’s not clear that Minnick has strong support in his district, even outside of the Tea Party movement. Minnick could very easily lose his seat. So if he wins, the Tea Party Express backs a Pelosi supporter; if he loses, the Tea Party Express looks like a paper tiger (much to the delight of the mainstream media).

The Tea Party Express has been a key player in crafting the public perception of the Tea Party movement and has certainly taken its fair share of abuse from the mainstream media. Unfortunately, the endorsement of Minnick can be seen as nothing short of a poorly calculated political move that amounts to tokenism on the part of the organization in an effort to claim a “non-partisan” image. Even worse, the endorsement could wind up halting the political career of Vaughn Ward, a conservative with a bright future who could really make a difference in Washington at a time when his services are most needed. It is one thing to be politically opportunistic; it’s a whole other matter to be squishy and self-serving.

Fixing Washington isn’t about Republicans and Democrats; it’s about electing conservative candidates who will get the job done. Vaughn Ward is one of those conservatives. Before the Tea Party Express makes another endorsement, it might want to recall the notion of “government of the people, by the people” and make a good-faith effort to consult with the local constituents of the district.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of ProjectVirginia — “Where Politics Meets Social Media.” Ford and Steve advise political campaigns on the use of digital technology for effective communication, fundraising and voter outreach. You can follow them on Twitter @ProjectVirginia.