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Tea Party To Hold Its First Natl. Convention

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Tea Party To Hold Its First Natl. Convention

Tea Party To Hold Its First Natl. Convention

Tea Party To Hold Its First Natl. Convention

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123221091/123221087" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Tea Party movement rose to prominence in the summer of 2009 when members mobilized at town hall meetings to express anger over President Obama's proposals. Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis Tea Party movement, and Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor, discuss the organization and its goals for the 2010 mid-term elections.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

A year ago, as Democrats celebrated the inauguration of a president and Republicans brooded over their apparent irrelevance, a series of demonstrations erupted around the country.

These tea parties showed up again as activists arrived to protest plans to overhaul health care, as members of Congress held town hall meetings over the summer. They've already played important roles in elections, for governor in Virginia, for Congress in Upstate New York, last month for the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

Later this week, the Tea Party movement holds its first national convention. Broadly speaking, this loosely organized group advocates limited government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and wants politicians held accountable for their decisions. Today, a look inside the Tea Party.

Later, Barack Obama, Jeb Hensarling and Paul Ryan on the Opinion Page this week. We'll listen to the president's exchanges with the Republican members of Congress at a meeting in Baltimore last Friday.

But first, the Tea Party movement. If you consider yourself a member, what's it about for you, and where do you go from here? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And joining us now from the studios of WKNO, our member station in Memphis, is Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis TEA Party. He's going on to attend the convention that begins on Thursday in Nashville. Nice to have you on the program with us today.

Mr.�MARK SKODA (Founder, Memphis TEA Party Movement): Thank you for allowing me to join you. I appreciate that.

CONAN: And why did you start a Tea Party?

Mr.�SKODA: Well, you know, I'm, like many people, a traditional Republican, in fact on the conservative side, have been heavily involved in Republican politics most of my life. In fact, I like to tell people when I was 18 years old, the first year we got to vote, I voted for Richard Nixon.

Of course, we know the outcome there, and I think what we have seen over and over again is that our politicians in particular have not listened to the people.

CONAN: And so what makes the Tea Party different from the Republican Party?

Mr.�SKODA: I think, fundamentally, it is about holding them accountable and holding both parties accountable to fiscal responsibility. It became apparent even in the Bush administration, towards the end of his tenure, that the spending that was out of control was resulting in greater debt. And, of course, we only have to look to the recent $1.4 trillion budget deficit last year and now a projected $1.6 trillion to have $3 trillion more on the backs of our children and grandchildren.

CONAN: And so, let me ask you, there's long been a part that's been for smaller government and lower taxes called the Libertarian Party. What makes you different from the Libertarians?

Mr.�SKODA: Well, I think fundamentally, the Tea Party is not a party, per se, right? It is a loose affiliation, a movement of many people who are tired of government being unresponsive. And in particular, given our two-party system, the likelihood of a third party evolving into any position of power is, frankly, an inappropriate step.

So I think people are really about holding accountable those conservatives who represent themselves primarily as Republicans to meeting the tenets of the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general.

CONAN: So what will you're just one delegate going to this conference, but what would you like to see the movement do? Would you like to see it back, for example, conservative challengers to more-liberal Republicans?

Mr.�SKODA: I think the truth of the matter is that, as I've written numerous times, the idea of a loose affiliation. First of all, all politics are local, and I think that one can begin to assess, both on a state basis as well as national basis, the kind of people they want to represent them.

More importantly, I think that the movement and what I desire out of it is to fundamentally say, first, are they going to hold themselves accountable to the people?

We don't need to have a third party, and we don't need to sort of be at war with Republicans. However, as recently the election going in Illinois, I've been very active with Adam Andrzejewski and that group there, they've taken a man who is not a professional politician to tie for the lead for the Republican primary for governor.

So, the Tea Party movement itself can actually exercise its power by promoting and by supporting various candidates that meet sort of their views on conservatism.

CONAN: That meet their views on conservatism, and I'm sure you're familiar with the results of the election for the 23rd district in the state of New York, the congressional race there were considered a safe Republican seat. The Republican nominated, Dede Scozzafava, was not conservative enough for a lot of people. She got a challenge, and she eventually resigned from the race, and the Democrat won.

Mr.�SKODA: Well, it's interesting because Dede is a particular call to action. When you look at the fact that not only was she a RINO, but then she goes out of...

CONAN: A RINO, Republican in name only.

Mr.�SKODA: Indeed.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr.�SKODA: And so she subsequently, you know, backs the Democrat. And regardless of one's position, if you declare yourself as a Republican, you maintain those values.

Dede was mad because, frankly, she didn't get the support. And regrettably, the race didn't turn out like many people wished. However, that was sort of one of the first efforts, I think, of a groundswell to move a candidate to a near-win. And, of course, that will be recast again in 2010 when the permanent election takes place.

CONAN: All right. All politics is local. How would what influence would you like to wage there in Memphis?

Mr.�SKODA: Well, indeed, we actually have not only formed a 501(c)(3), the Memphis TEA Party, but also we formed a PAC. We actually are recruiting candidates. We've recruited a congressional candidate for district 9 to challenge the Democrat here, which typically has not been contended for.

We're working with our county commissioners to elect local Republican leaders who are conservative and who will be able to sustain the interests of Shelby County and its people, and ultimately to work across states, in the case of Arkansas and Mississippi, where there are many races contending today and assist those Tea Party movements and those people who are supporting candidates in electing them.

CONAN: And what would you like to see come out of this national convention that starts later this week in Nashville?

Mr.�SKODA: Well, you know, I've been involved in all the PR and all the media access. We have over 112 press organizations that want credentialing. We have people from Singapore, Japan, Germany, Holland, Spain, as well as our U.S. broadcasts. And the interesting thing is that two things I think are apparent.One is they want to see what this grass movement is in America. Why is it important?

But for the delegates, I think the people who are coming together, some who are, frankly, as far away as Hawaii and Trinidad, are really beginning to build what I call a more reasoned, a more mature approach to organizing and to begin to make their power known.

CONAN: Well, I hope you have a good time, Mark, and good luck to you.

Mr.�SKODA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Mark Skoda, founder of the Memphis TEA Party, on his way to the national convention in Nashville later this week.

We want to hear from those members of our audience who consider themselves members of the Tea Party. What's it about for you? Where do you go from here? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Here with us in Studio 3A is Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor. And, Ron, always nice to have you on the program.

RON ELVING: Always good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And Ron, how important a movement is this?

ELVING: It's an important movement, I think, because any time the political sentiments of the country begin to form another organization that seems to have some effect on elections, that's of tremendous interest.

You know, it's been back to the 1850s since we grew another political party in the United States that lasted, and was able to win presidencies and control Congress and so on. That was the Republican Party.

There have been many, many attempts since, and sometimes they're built around an individual, like Ross Perot and his United We Stand and his Reform Party movement. But oftentimes, they just spring up more or less spontaneously, and there's usually been a limit. There's been a kind of ceiling over how much success they could have not just because of the problem of money but because of the problem of diffusion.

They start out being against something or against several things, and that gives them a certain impulse, and they go a certain distance. But then what's hard is to actually form an organization and put together a platform, a series of things that you're in favor of, and then trying to forward to elect candidates on that.

This is a very interesting, fresh, if you will, kind of energy that's coming from conservative populists, people who don't want to seen as defending, in any way, the establishment or the elite, people who would like to pick up on some of the anger and energy that they saw in the populist left in the Obama campaign and move that in the direction of their own political views and positions.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Mike is on the line from Wausau in Wisconsin, excuse me, Wausau, Indiana.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah, hi, Neal, how are you doing?

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MIKE: Hey, you know, I'm a member of the Tea Party movement and, you know, the main reason that many of us, Democrat and Republican, share, you know, the views is basically what your, you know, your guest was saying. You know, we're tired of not being listened to.

You know, the senator who just won, Mr.�Brown, that won in Massachusetts, you know, I remember specifically him saying, you know, hey, this is the city or the state of Massachusetts' seat. It's not anybody else's seat. It's the people's. People, you know, that's what we need to get to. You know, our senators and our Congress people, they need to start thinking like that. And, unfortunately, they're not thinking like that in my personal opinion.

CONAN: Well, that's a slogan that obviously helped now-Senator-elect Brown. But in terms of positions as opposed to just listening to people and presumably going to town hall meetings and that sort of thing and then reading your email, you can do that.

MIKE: Yes, yes. And, you know, Im going to give you a classic example. This morning, I was listening to the TV, and President Obama was on there talking about deficits.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MIKE: Now, he is proposing this preposterous trillions of dollars that they're asking for this budget, and then he's talking about reducing the budget.

I'm like, you can't have it both ways. And American people can see right straight through it. And that's where we're getting at. And this Tea Party, they're basically helping us, you know, collection of guys, people, you know, getting our voices, you know, a speaker, so to speak, so these folks can start listening to us maybe.

And unfortunately, like last year, you know, when you were watching the TV and the senators in Congress were trying to push their health care bill at these meetings that they were having, these town hall meetings, well, and people were screaming, and people were yelling and so frustrated.

And the thing is that we have been talking to them, you know, collectively, quietly, calmly, professionally to these guys and gals, but and now we're to the point where we're having to yell and scream.

CONAN: All right. And, Mike, are you heading for national this week?

MIKE: No, unfortunately, no I'm not. I can't get off of work, but I certainly would love to if I could.

CONAN: All right, Mike, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

MIKE: All right, thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And that sort of anger, that's, Ron Elving, deeply seated.

ELVING: Frustration drives a lot of political feeling. When people have no jobs in many cases or when they're underemployed or when they feel themselves economically disadvantaged or they see their own economic position eroding, they want to see someone responding to this, and they want to see someone responding to it in a way that's consistent with their own principles. In other words, they don't necessarily want to see more government. Some people react to those circumstances by wanting less.

I think that we do see a lot of these movements arise in hard economic times. That was true with Perot's movement in the early 1990s. It's certainly true with many of the political energies that were released in the 1930s, also in the first part of the 1900s, the progressive era.

It's in harder economic times, times of uncertainty that people do try to get together and push back against what they see as all of the elite, whether it's the economic elite, the power elite, the corporate elite or the government elite. And right now, as this caller was making clear, they sense some of their disadvantage coming from Washington, coming from the federal government and that, of course, means the Democrats running it.

CONAN: And to them it seems unfair. All right, Ron Elving, stay with us. When we come back from a short break, we're going to be talking also with a former Republican member of Congress, Vin Weber.

We'd like to hear from you, too. If you consider yourself part of the Tea Party movement, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

According to recent opinion polls, the Tea Party is more popular than either the Republicans or the Democrats. In December, more than 40 percent of those surveyed had a positive view of the movement. This week, many of the Tea Party activists come together under one roof in Nashville, Tennessee, for their first ever national convention. As with most things in politics, the event does not lack for controversy. We'll talk more about that in a minute.

If you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party movement, what's it about for you? Where do you go from here? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

With us is Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor. And we're going to bring another voice into the conversation, Vin Weber, Republican political strategist, a member of Congress from Minnesota in the 1980s and '90s and also with us here in Studio 3A. Vin, always nice to have you on the program.

Mr. VIN WEBER (Republican Political Strategist): Great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And, Vin, Ron Elving was talking about some of the past movements. This sounds a little bit like the prairie fire that Ronald Reagan used to talk about.

Mr. WEBER: Well, I think that that's right. I think first of all, I think what's interesting, and I think Mark Skoda, who I thought was very articulate, by the way, really made this clear. The Tea Party, even though it's called the Tea Party, is not a political party. It's not likely to become a political party, maybe in some localized areas but not broadly.

It is a movement, a grassroots political movement. And people need to understand quite the distinction between a political movement and a political party.

Currently, the Republican Party has a very low identification in the polls. A couple of numbers that came out last year showed the Republicans at about their lowest, at 20, 20-plus percent. But conservative ideological identification at its highest level, at least according to the Gallop poll, 41 percent.

That's kind of been the case for a long time. And so, you look at this Tea Party phenomenon, the movement of the Tea Party, and you know that at least it begins with a whole lot of conservative-thinking people who, for whatever reason, do not want to identify with the Republican Party.

Mark Skoda did say that he was a Republican, but we know there are an awful lot of people out there who think of themselves as conservatives, but don't think that either party, including the Republicans, represent them well.

CONAN: And, Ron Elving, the movement does seem to be popular not just with conservatives and Republicans but with independent voters.

ELVING: And it should be, in the sense that if you are frustrated with a ruling Democrats and you're not happy identifying yourself with the Republicans, whether it's a hangover from George W. Bush or some policy of his you didn't like or whatever reason, you should be looking for some other options. You should be looking for some other alternatives.

There is the Libertarian Party. There are a few other smaller parties. But I think that the congressman is right, that this is not really what people are looking for, another party. What they want is an expression of what they are feeling, and they want someone to respond to them.

And as Mark Skoda kept saying, they want accountability. And if they think that by through a populist movement, they can put enough pressure on the people who are currently in power to start responding to what they see as their concerns, that would be effective politics from their standpoint without necessarily electing somebody to something.

CONAN: Well, in its brief existence, has this movement, Vin Weber, affected the Republican Party?

Mr. WEBER: Oh, I think it's had a profound effect, by and large positive, I would add. We focus on this New York 23 race, where a Democrat was elected. I think that's very much an aberration. And if you hadn't had the peculiarities of New York election law, it would not have occurred that way.

In most other states, certainly in my state of Minnesota, you could not have a handful of party leaders sit down in a room and pick the most liberal Republican available as a nominee. An endorsing convention or a primary would have chosen someone more acceptable, and Republicans probably would have won that seat.

But I think that the movement has had an impact on the Republican Party. For one thing, many Republicans today are very nervous who were in Congress last year are nervous about their votes for the TARP program. If you talk to a lot of the Tea Party activists around the country, what they're unhappy with the Republicans about, it sort of goes back to TARP.

CONAN: Roughly the bank bailout.

Mr. WEBER: The bank bailout, the emergency bill passed at the end of the Bush administration, in the view of Secretary of Paulson and others, to avert financial collapse. And a lot of Republicans voted for it for that reason. But the Tea Party folks are very unhappy with that vote. They view that as the beginning of this excessive expansion of the federal government. And so, they have you won't find hardly any Republicans today defending that.

Another case that I cite, in the health care deliberations, as we all know, Senator Grassley from Iowa - who's really one of the most respected Republicans on Capitol Hill - was participating with Senator Baucus in the bipartisan talks to come together around a health care bill that both parties could support. He went home last summer to Iowa and found out that the grass roots, the tea partiers, if you will, were very angry about that and sent him a very strong message to come back and resist the Democrats' health care bill, and he really did.

Now, I use Senator Grassley because he was ranking member of the committee, a senior guy and really the most popular and respected politician in Iowa. But that message was received by Republicans all across the country who might have wanted to cooperate in some way, but found that their constituency really didn't want that.

CONAN: We're getting callers on the line, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's go next to Tom. And Tom's with us from Santa Barbara.

TOM (Caller): Hi, how are you guys?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

TOM: Good. Good. You know, there were two things that had an effect on my wife and I in terms of being part of the Tea Party activism, and one of them kind of was we watched a CNN reporter, Susan Roesgen, Hector a father and his kid for being at a Tea Party rally to protest excessive government spending.

And we both looked at each other. We realized, you know, the mainstream media's just not sympathetic, and it's unlikely that they'll get out what we thought was a pretty mainstream expression, which is a desire for the government to spend less rather than more at this point.

And secondly, my father's a physician, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It turns out that things are okay, actually, for him, but...

CONAN: Glad to hear that.

TOM: Well, thank you, thank you. He's a great guy, and I love my dad, and he was diagnosed with that. And, you know, my father became politically activated as well. He's a moderate Republican. His wife's a Democrat, but they tried to get into one of those town hall meetings over the summer, I think it was congressman I think it's Pete Stark here, in California, a liberal congressman, but they populated it with SEIU purple shirts, and not one person like my father, who got there a few hours early, and his wife, could even get in there to stand up. You would have thought they would have wanted to hear from a physician who said, you know, I've spent 40 years of my life, you know, dealing with the health care system and taking Medicare patients, et cetera, and why that's difficult and why he didn't even want to do that anymore and why he's concerned for his own health. And yet, they didn't want to hear from them.

So after that, you know, my wife and I, who have three kids, we headed on down to a Tea Party rally. And, you know, we're not the types to roll out to rallies. You know, we've got a lot of things going on. So, you know, that's kind of what activated us, a little frustration that, you know, there's a whole culture in Washington and also in the New York media establishment that push an agenda and see the world differently than the bulk of us who run small businesses or raise families. And, you know, we just it's just excessive control of our lives in terms of the dollars they take and the things they prescribe for us.

CONAN: And that's very interesting, Tom, but how is this going to manifest itself? What are you going to do as a Tea Party activist?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOM: Well, you know, I'm going to vote for conservatives. I think you guys have it right that it's not a political party at all. You know, we just it's kind of a consensus between my friends and I, people who kind of are of like mind, entrepreneurs and businesspeople who feel unrepresented.

And, you know, we'll go for look, I made calls for Scott Brown from my bedroom, you know, on that Saturday before the election. Why? Because you could do it from his Web site. You know, I mean, that's how I said, you know, I spent an hour on the phone, mostly talking to people who had been called before, but I just said I'm so irate.

And so and Martha Coakley was so representative. She was the perfect candidate because she was so representative of the disconnect of the people in Washington who think that they've got a prescription and an agenda, you know, that's better than we know for ourselves.

So you know, we're educated, my wife and I. You know, if you watch the media, they talked about the Tea Party activists initially as a bunch of rubes, you know, a bunch of, you know, fools, you know, from the Midwest, not from the coasts. And really they, at their own and the Democrats at their own peril by calling them, you know, Astroturfers, et cetera, or swastika-wearing types that Nancy Pelosi identified.

You know, they really, really, at their own peril missed the boat on how fiery the activism really is. It's not a party. It just means vote for conservatives and get the Republican Party to be conservative again. Otherwise, the Republican Party is going to go down the tubes.

CONAN: All right, Tom, thanks very much, appreciate that. Get the Republican Party to be conservative again, Vin Weber. A lot of people thought it was pretty conservative over the past eight years.

Mr. WEBER: Well, that's what's so interesting about this is, you know, let me just a little bit of history. About the first half of the last century, the independent movements, populist movements, were all on the left. That's where the energy was: populism, progressivism, all the way up to the '60s.

Since then, independent movements outside the party, whether it's the American Party Movement back in the '60s and '70s or Ross Perot or even the Libertarian Party, have mainly been right-of-center movements.

We kind of all thought that that or at least in my case worried that might be coming to an end with this tremendous grassroots progressive movement that helped propel Senator Obama into the presidency. And now we see this reaction against it almost immediately, and you kind of wonder if the country really had changed that much or if maybe that independent impulse out there once again is on the right, as it's been for quite, quite a while.

The fact is that even though President Bush and his administration were branded as very far to the right, it was really a couple of specific things that caused that very extreme, unhappiness with the Iraq war. You know, I don't think Iraq war was an ideological war, but it was - it made people on the left very inflamed. The administration of George W. Bush was not particularly right wing.

Look at the spending policies which motivate the tea party people: No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug benefit, a lot of intrusions of the federal government and to - and those cases, education and health care that traditional conservatives would have just found objectionable. And lo and behold, were finding a grassroots movement reflecting that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And as it begins to affect politics, Ron Elving, is it going to be seen in challenges in the Republican primaries? How is it going to manifest?

ELVING: We are seeing some tea party-backed candidates emerging in Texas, in Tennessee, in California, in various primaries - it's actually a little late in California. But they are standing up and saying, we are going to run, not because they necessarily expect that they're going to be able to unseat an incumbent Republican or an incumbent Democrat, but because they want to get people something to organize behind. Then, if they can deliver that support to, presumably, a Republican nominee down the road, they hope to be able to move some seats in Congress.

The way that the districts are drawn around the country, it's pretty hard to take districts away, but there are still some swing districts. And I think everyone expects that the Republican majority of roughly 40 seats is going to be much, much whittled down by the elections this coming November...

CONAN: The Democratic majority,

ELVING: The Democratic majority, I am sorry. And they expect this is going to be pared - and into some degree, what the concern is of people in this movement is that it will be pared with more or less conventional Republicans who won't be different enough. They want to make sure that these Republicans that are going to be elected in November, because of these natural pendulum swing back, are going to be sufficiently committed to their principles - populist conservatism.

CONAN: Let me also ask you, the last caller's reference to a remark by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about the swastika and I think she was talking about tactics in town hall meetings rather than ideology. But, nevertheless, some people believed that at least some elements of this Tea Party movement is extremely conservative and, indeed, that they worry about racism.

ELVING: Well, if you looked at some of the people who came to some of the rallies in Washington, D.C., - and we had a couple last year, some on the Capitol grounds and some down on the mall where there was a Sunday rally and so on, a few people within those crowds were wearing signs and were carrying signs and depictions of President Obama and so on, which a lot of people found offensive and that put that particular cast on it. I don't think that that's the underlying movement here. To me, what I feel renewed here, what seems to be similar or resonate to me, is a lot of the energy that we saw in '93 and '94, which was the last time that the Democrats had White House, the House and the Senate, all under their control for that period of time, those two years.

And a lot of this feels like the objection that was raised by conservative populists to Bill Clinton and his hegemony in those years. That's what I see as being the similar, historical root here. And we havent had an all-Democratic power structure for those years - since '94 until just this last year.

CONAN: And Ron Elvin is NPR's senior Washington editor. Also with us, Republican political strategist Vin Weber.

Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to Joe(ph) and Joe is calling from Orlando.

JOE (Caller): Yes. Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Joe.

JOE: I agree with what you recently said about comparing this with the contract with America, because I'm a Republican and I'm in the process of getting foreclosed on. I'm college educated and I feel like I have no agency. And that helplessness feeling of, I've done everything I'm supposed to do and yet, you know, the equity in my home has gone down 40 percent to the point where now I'm completely underwater. And I've spent 48 hours talking to the banks, trying to get this resolved and it's just - it's all fallen on deaf ears because they have no pressure. Once they changed the market rules where they could set whatever price they felt was fair then they had no reason to negotiate with people like me.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOE: And so, youve got, you know, millions of homeowners who are losing their most valuable asset and it seems like neither party really cares.

CONAN: And neither party really cares. Vin Weber, that seems to be the motive for a lot of this, neither party really seems to care.

Mr. WEBER: Right. I think a lot of people think that. It's very important that in times of economic distress you do give rise to a lot of populist movements, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, sometimes indistinguishable. But I think that's what Joe's call was about from Orlando. I feel bad for him in this situation. I would only point out that some conservative voices have been arguing against the mark-to-market phenomenon for a long time, notably Steve Forbes at Forbes magazine. So I hope he can find his way out of this difficulty.

CONAN: Joe, good luck to you.

JOE: Thanks.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. How, Vin Weber, is this going to play out as Republicans look for their next presidential candidate? Sarah Palin has been embraced as a heroine by some within the tea party movement.

Mr. WEBER: Well, certainly, the Grassroots activists out there are looking for a candidate early on and Sarah Palin has a lot of support. You can see it in the polls. She has held up quite well, really a bit better than most anybody would've expected. But I don't think that she is necessarily the frontrunner and I don't, myself, think that she is likely to run - I could be wrong about that, that's just intuitively on my point - my part.

But I think that all of the candidates - as we talked about earlier - all of the candidates are going to adjust to this phenomenon. Ron talked about the fact there are some primaries, indeed, around the country. Maybe somebody'll even be defeated a candidate, a two-party candidate, at a primary. But the main impact will because Republican incumbents and front running candidates for open seats to adjust their platforms. They see...

CONAN: They shift to the right.

Mr. WEBER: Yeah. They will want to take on the tea party movement directly. They want to earn their support at the polls. You're seeing that all over the country. And I think that that's what's going to happen in the presidential race, as well. The presidential candidates are going to be talking about credible plans to reduce the size and scope of government, probably more ambitiously than anyone since Ronald Reagan.

CONAN: And Ron Elving, as we come up to the start of this conference on Thursday, there are some controversies over the price of the tickets and, indeed, the speaking fees for Ms. Palin.

ELVING: That's right. It's been reported, although never confirmed by other side, that she was to be paid $100,000. And while people were being charged almost $600 to register, if they wanted to just come for one day, they can hear Sarah Palin for $350, roughly. Well, that's a pretty high ticket for one speech and it would tend to indicate that a lot of the original cost for registering and being a part of the conference was to pay Sarah Palin.

Now, a lot of the people are coming because they want to hear Sarah Palin. It's a draw, it's show business. That's how you get a crowd, and it's you want to have, if youre organizing a conference, a big crowd. You want to sell out. And they have announced that they have sold all their tickets. So, in one sense, it's a success, but it has had a public image problem in that it suggests that you have to be in some sense affluent in order to be part of this conference. And that's certainly the opposite of the message that the party is going to generally send.

CONAN: Ron Elving, as always, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it, NPR's senior Washington editor. Vin Weber also joined us here in Studio 3A, and thanks for your time.

Mr. WEBER: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Vin Weber now managing partner at Clark & Weinstock, former representative of Minnesota's second district.

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