American Majority President Ned Ryun called for Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann to drop out of the presidential race Thursday, claiming that she was damaging the tea party movement. But other tea party groups told The Daily Caller they disagree.
In a post on his group’s blog, Ryun wrote: “It’s time for Michele Bachmann to go.”
“An individual personality or organization purporting to be a ‘leader’ of what is truly a grassroots movement can hurt the tea party brand by creating false impressions about its core beliefs,” Ryun wrote, arguing that Bachmann’s focus on social issues, and her lack of focus on substantive policy proposals, would distract from the tea party’s message of fiscal restraint.
Moreover, he noted, her struggles in the polls and frequent news reports of campaign staffers quitting “risks hurting the credibility of the movement.”
“I certainly don’t agree with that,” said Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks. In his opinion, Bachmann has “as much tea party credibility … as all those guys.”
“I think people want them to compete to see who emerges,” Steinhauser said. “I don’t think it’s helpful to ask any of these guys to drop out. At least let them compete in Iowa,” after which point, he noted, the field would likely narrow itself.
Moreover, he added, “I haven’t heard any local groups asking for anyone to drop out.”
Steinhauser speculated that there “could be something more personal there between [Bachmann] and American Majority” that prompted the post.
The Bachmann campaign had a similar take. In a statement given to CNN, Bachmann Campaign Manager Keith Nahigian dismissed Ryun’s call.
“The strength of the Tea Party is all individuals’ opinions are valued but the no single leader speaks for it. Mr. Ryun, who supports Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is entitled to his own opinion,” Nahigian wrote. “And that’s exactly what he is expressing.”
According to Nahigian, “Michele Bachmann enjoys strong support from Americans across party lines and that certainly includes the Tea Party.”
Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, said that with many voters still undecided, “I don’t think I’d be encouraging anybody to get in or get out.”
“Voters are still moving around — they’re not locked in yet, so I don’t think we’re at a point yet where we have to narrow the field,” he said.
Russo said that each of the candidates had attended Tea Party Express events and reached out to the group, and that Bachmann was not the only standard-bearer of the movement in the race.
He also noted that while the tea party movement emphasizes economic issues, it doesn’t necessarily preclude social issues.
“While the Tea Party Express focuses exclusively on economic issues, we’ve always welcomed other organizations to take on a broader range of issues than we have,” he said.
Russo added that he didn’t think Ryun expressing his opinion was necessarily bad. In fact, he said, the tea party movement gains strength “because of the diversity of viewpoints.”
Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said he also disagreed with Ryun’s call.
He most notably objected to the idea that American Majority was a “tea party group” or that it was a representative of the tea party movement, saying that, by their own admission, they are a training institute that has “assisted some local tea party organizations with training.”
“I find it odd that a group that claims to be a ‘training institute’ would call for such a thing,” Meckler said. “It doesn’t seem to be within their mission as stated on their website, and it certainly isn’t anything I’m hearing regularly from the ‘grassroots’ whom they claim to serve.”
As for the relevance of social issues, Meckler said that “there are certainly many folks who participate in the tea party movement who care about them. But the movement itself is focused on fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. For those dedicated to pursuing those things, there are many other fine organizations and movements focused on social issues.”
Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, slammed Ryun in a blog post Friday morning as a “Washington insider” who was “trying to tell the Tea Party movement what to do and act as its leader.”
“Michele Bachmann is a passionate, articulate and graceful voice in this movement,” Phillips argued. “It is not up to a Washington insider to tell her when she should or should not leave the race. Nor is it their place to pronounce that she is harming this movement.”
Phillips, it should be noted, has endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Phillips also said that the tea party’s fiscal focus does not exclude members from dabbling in social policy debates.
“The spark that started this movement was the incredible Obama spending binge,” he wrote. “But that is not all that motivates this movement. A vast majority of the people who make up the Tea Party movement are not only fiscal conservatives but social conservatives as well.”