Convention Raises Tea Party's Political Hopes NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea reports on the Tea Party's national convention in Nashville, Tenn., and political editor Ken Rudin and Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune tackle the political news — from President Obama's planned health care summit to the governor's race in California.
NPR logo

Convention Raises Tea Party's Political Hopes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Convention Raises Tea Party's Political Hopes

Convention Raises Tea Party's Political Hopes

Convention Raises Tea Party's Political Hopes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea reports on the Tea Party's national convention in Nashville, Tenn., and political editor Ken Rudin and Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune tackle the political news — from President Obama's planned health care summit to the governor's race in California.


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

The bipartisan weather freezes Capitol Hill, a demon sheep stalks the Republican flock in California, and New Yorkers wonder if a second consecutive governor is about to be Spitzerized. It's Wednesday and time for a blizzard edition of the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics. The new junior senator from Massachusetts takes his seat, Jerry Ford's old seat comes open in Michigan, Congress mourns Jack Murtha, a new mayor with a familiar name in the Big Easy. In just a big, we'll focus on Sarah Palin and the buzz from the Tea Party convention in Music City, and get an update on the fallout from the Illinois primary.

Later in the program, medical marijuana laws and teenage pot addicts. But first, as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Since only essential personnel were called into work here at NPR here today, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us from his home in Maryland. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, the storm is amazing, but I should have been expecting this because every time the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl, we get a blizzard like this.

CONAN: Absolutely, 100 percent.

RUDIN: It's like clockwork. Okay, here's the trivia question. Okay, we're going to talk later about the Tea Party and what it means, and we really don't know what it means yet. But one thing it does mean, if it becomes a third party, we know that third parties are not known for their success - certainly not in presidential elections.

Okay, so here's a two-part trivia question here. Since 1900, which third-party or independent presidential candidate received the most votes and received the most electoral votes?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to which third-party candidate in the last 110 years got the most votes and the most electoral votes got to get them both give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, Of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt.

And a snow-covered and slow week here in Washington, D.C., Ken. Congress has been - and the government has been shut down by all of this.

RUDIN: A lot of people say why not, it's about time. Although some things have been happening, or you could say that the president's agenda has not been progressing.

I guess the big news in the Senate is that the president's nomination of Craig Becker for the National Labor Relations Board failed to make cloture. It only got 52 votes out of 60 needed, and so somebody, another person that President Obama wanted on his team is voted down.

It looks like he or some other people may be named to a recess appointment. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid is talking about - that the president should say let's do it when the Senate is gone, let's just have some recess appointments. Of course, other presidents have done the same.

CONAN: And of course, whichever party is out of power when that president does it complains that this is, well, a violation of Congress' rights. But as you mentioned, I guess everybody does it.

RUDIN: President Bush has done it, as well, yes.

CONAN: And there were rumors this week that Governor David Paterson of New York was about to resign in the midst of a scandal we've never seen the likes of.

RUDIN: Well, I hate rumors, and we should know better than to report on rumors, but it's become more than that. First of all, the New York Times is allegedly working on this horrific story about David Paterson, that either talks about sex or drugs or that he kidnapped the Lindbergh baby or whatever it is.

But the thing is, it's just rumors. And of course, the New York Daily News and the New York Post is going with it - went with it on the front page. Rumors abound, Paterson may quit, he's under siege, blah, blah, blah. And then, rather than ignore it, Governor Paterson held a press conference to say these rumors are despicable - which they are, because they're just rumors - and I'm not resigning. The only way I'm going to go out is either by the election - ballot box or in a box itself, but I'm not leaving office any other way.

And of course, once you dignify rumors by holding a press conference, as the Clintons did in "60 Minutes," you know, 1992, it becomes a story, and so everybody jumps on it as it becomes a news story.

CONAN: And it becomes well, and we're still waiting there are various reports that story was going to appear on Monday, then again today. So far, nothing.

RUDIN: And he demanded the weirdest thing is that Governor Paterson demanded the Times apologize - and apologize for what?

CONAN: For something it hasn't done.

RUDIN: It hasn't done yet. So, you know, it's a very ugly situation in New York. Paterson has been treading on thin ice for the longest time. I don't know if anybody treads on thin ice. It's an expression I've just made up, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: It just seems like he's in big trouble, and of course, waiting in the wings is Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general, whom everybody expects will be the Democratic nominee for governor, including the White House because the White House has made it clear they don't want Paterson to run again because they don't feel he could win, and Cuomo of course is saying nothing about this, nor should he have to because everybody is doing his job for him.

CONAN: Meanwhile, let's turn to some news of this week and go to the state of Michigan, where a long-time representative has decided to retire and bow out of the race for 2010.

RUDIN: Yes, that's Vern Ehlers. Actually, two members of Congress announced today that they are not going to run again for re-election. Both of them are 76 years old. Vern Ehlers held the seat that Gerald Ford held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's been around since around 2000, thereabouts. He's been around for a couple years. The nicest guy, a moderate Republican. He votes with Democrats a lot on the environment, on auto fuel-efficiency stuff, on funding for science, things like that.

Also, Diane Watson, a member of Congress, a Democrat from California who represents West Los Angeles and Culver City, also announced, today, she would not run for re-election. That seat, the Watson seat in California, is solidly Democratic. President Obama carried it with 87 percent of the vote. That's not in any difficulty at all.

The Ehlers seat in Michigan is more problematic, even though he has always won landslide re-elections, and he's very popular there. John McCain beat Barack Obama very narrowly there in 2008. So the Democrats may have some hope for that one.

CONAN: And it's interesting. You mentioned nice guy. You spoke with him about bipartisanship back in 2005 at, of all things, an ice cream social.

Representative VERN EHLERS (Republican, Michigan): In other words, fight like dogs and cats to get what you believe is right, but when it's all over, you go out for lunch together. You simply do not accomplish anything by creating enemies out of people who oppose you.

RUDIN: And yet when you listen to the dialogue, when you listen to the back and forth, it's not pretty.

Rep. EHLERS: No, it certainly isn't pretty, and what has happened to bring that on, I blame there's three-fourths of the House of Representatives goes home every weekend. You don't have that same social awareness of each other that they had in the old days, where they played golf together on weekends. I think that really has hurt the comity of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

CONAN: And that's comity with a T-Y, not D-Y.

RUDIN: You can see that he really regrets what happened to the tone of Congress, and it seems like it's been going on forever, but it's certainly gotten worse in the past couple of years. And when I interviewed Congressman Ehlers, you could just see the pain in his face, the pain in his heart for what's happened to members of Congress.

CONAN: And we have people who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, which was, if you will remember: Which third-party candidate in the last 110 has gotten the most votes and the most electoral votes.

Here's an email from Jennifer(ph) in Buffalo. She says: Is it the Green Party, Ralph Nader?

RUDIN: Well, you know, that's interesting, Ralph Nader, because Ralph Nader only got 2.8 million votes in 2000, and yet everybody blames him, rightly or wrongly, for Al Gore's defeat to George W. Bush. He got very few votes, he got no electoral votes, and yet Nader did play a big role in 2000. But he's not the answer we're looking for.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jonathan(ph), Jonathan calling us from Columbia.

JONATHAN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: In South Carolina. Go ahead, Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Well, my guess was Teddy Roosevelt with the Bull Moose Party and, for lack of a second one, I'll have to guess Eugene Debs.

CONAN: Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party. What do you think, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I like one of the answers. Of course, Eugene V. Debs, the socialist, never got that many votes. He ran for president many, many times, including once from prison, I believe, but which I think more and more candidates will be doing that coming up. But Debs never got that many votes.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call.


CONAN: Let's see if we've got this email: Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party guesses Emily Brown(ph) from the University of Minnesota.

RUDIN: Well, Teddy Roosevelt did get more electoral votes than anybody else, any other independent or third-party candidate in history. Of course, he was a former president when he ran in 1912, but he got 88 electoral votes. He carried six states. President Taft finished in third place, but now we need we need the most popular votes.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Dave(ph), and Dave's with us from Carbondale, Colorado.

DAVE (Caller): Yes, my guess is Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party and Ross Perot.

CONAN: And Ross Perot of the Ross Perot party.

RUDIN: He ran as an independent in 1992, and that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

DAVE: All right, I needed a new T-shirt.

RUDIN: Well, you need a long-sleeved T-shirt if you live in Washington.

DAVE: That's true.

CONAN: Well, he's in Carbondale, Colorado. He always needs a long-sleeved T-shirt.

RUDIN: 19.7 million votes in 1992, more than anybody else in history and yet not a single electoral vote.

DAVE: That's true. I remember that, too.

CONAN: Dave, we're going to put you on hold, take down your information. In return for your Political Junkie T-shirt, you're going to have to take a digital picture of yourself so we can post it on our wall of shame. But anyway, we're going to put you on hold. All right, congratulations.

And Ken, getting back to the electoral news - the political news. Maybe not just this week, I just saw it this week, one of the strangest political ads I have ever seen in my life. This is to do with the Republican nomination to face incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, a new breed of political advertising in this ad, paid for by Carly Fiorina.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: Tom Campbell. Is he what he tells us, or is he what he's become over the years, a FCINO, fiscal conservative in name only, a wolf in sheep's clothing?

CONAN: And that may sound pretty normal, but Ken, what we're seeing is a demon sheep with glowing, red eyes.

RUDIN: This was I-D-I-O-T-I-C, which is the most ridiculous ad I've ever seen in my life. If you go to my blog - Political Junkie, thank you very much - but you can see the ad. It's Carly Fiorina, who once upon a time was the frontrunner for the Senate, Republican Senate nomination in California, and she's attacking Tom Campbell, who a former congressman who was the finance director under Governor Schwarzenegger. Anybody who puts that on his resume is making a big mistake.

But the ad is just so bizarre with demon sheep and wolf in sheep's clothing, and you know, I don't think I don't remember if I ever did LSD in my life, I probably didn't, but I can't imagine watching this ad - the effect being any different.

CONAN: Anyway, let's go. Quickly, we have to remember Jack Murtha, the powerful Democrat from Pennsylvania, who died this past week.

RUDIN: Right, he died on Monday at the age of 77. He was perhaps, even when the Republicans held control of the House, Jack Murtha, a very, very powerful member of the Appropriations Committee, especially on defense spending. He made national headlines in 2005 when he, a long-time supporter of the war effort, said that this war in Iraq is a mistake, we should pull out the troops, and he just, you know, completely switched his views on a lot of things. It looks like there will be a special election for his seat on May 18.

CONAN: We'll have more on that later. Of course, also when we come back, we're going to focus on a couple of other developments, the fallout from the Illinois primary. Plus, Don Gonyea will join us to talk about last week's Tea Party convention, and more Ken Rudin, of course.

So if you attended the Tea Party convention or watched it on TV, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday. Ken Rudin, our political junkie, joins us from his home in Maryland, where, thanks to the blizzard, he may be running out of milk and eggs - never runs out of political news, though.

In just a couple of minutes, we're going to be focusing on the Tea Party convention. If you attended, if you watched it on TV, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email

But first to Illinois where, last week, voters went to the polls. They chose Republican and Democratic candidates for the Senate seat once held by President Obama now held by Roland Burris, and they voted on candidates for governor, too. And joining us now from his home in the well, home sort of, home away from home in the Tribune Tower in Chicago, is Rick Pearson, political correspondent for the Chicago Trib. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr.�RICK PEARSON (Political Correspondent, Chicago Tribune): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And it was home last night, I understand.

Mr.�PEARSON: Actually, it's been home for quite some time with the way we still have unresolved results when it comes to the Republican nominee for governor, and we've had quite some turmoil as the ticket on the Democratic side is still taking shape.

CONAN: Well, why don't we deal with first things first: The Republican side still too close to call?

Mr.�PEARSON: Still within about 400 votes between the top two contenders. And now it looks like, as absentee ballots are still being counted, as well as voters who maintained they lived at their residence, but there's no proof of their registration, those have to be sorted through. So we're still looking at a couple of weeks away before we even move to the point of whether the second-place finisher is looking for a recount.

CONAN: In the meantime, the Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor, well, he won, but then he lost.

Mr.�PEARSON: Yes, he did. Scott Lee Cohen, who was a little-known pawnbroker who spent about two million in personal funds, was able to basically run a big advertising blitz that swamped a number of competitors in his first win for public office, but it didn't last very long.

CONAN: Well, he was found to have had a couple of skeletons in the closet.

Mr.�PEARSON: Well, he had some issues involving domestic battery involving an ex-girlfriend, who was convicted of prostitution. He had a divorce file in which his wife claimed that he was abusing anabolic steroids, which created a series of rage tendencies. And most interestingly enough, as he's spending this $2 million to win the campaign, the same day that he dropped $300,000 for political mailings, the ex-wife filed for $54,000 in back child support.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And so he was fairly gracious, though, in his withdrawal.

Mr.�PEARSON: Well, yes, and basically, Democratic leaders told him that if you think the attention you're getting now is bad, it's only going to get worse. And he said that due to the effects and pressure on his family, he agreed to withdraw.

CONAN: And Ken, we think of Illinois, at least in recent years, as a blue state, but maybe not.

RUDIN: Well, it had been a red state for the longest time, until there was Republican scandals. George Ryan comes to mind, the former governor - that gave us Rod Blagojevich in 2002. And now we have Rod Blagojevich's trial coming up on June 3. The last thing the Democrats want to be reminded of I think the best quote I saw was Scott Lee Cohen saying, talking about the ex-girlfriend who was a prostitute, he says: I thought she was a massage therapist. I mean, that's a line that's going to last in political lore forever.

CONAN: So on the Republican side, is there any betting at this point to which of the candidates is going to emerge?

Mr.�PEARSON: Well, right now, with the 400-vote difference and the fact technology has gotten so much better, it's not you know, it used to be, like, 5,000 votes would be an automatic recall. I mean, we're talking 400 votes. I think the loser in this would be apt to go for recount, but they still have to pay for it.

But right now, ahead is Bill Brady, he's a state senator from Central Illinois, and basically he was able to get down-state support while five other candidates from the Chicago area carved up the vast population area.

CONAN: So this could be this could get ugly before it's over, too.

Mr.�PEARSON: Absolutely. So far, it's been very quiet, very gentile, but you know, when we start getting into the real nuts and bolts of vote-counting, thankfully no hanging chads, but it could get very ugly.

RUDIN: Can I just add one thing quickly? The problem for the Republicans is that you'd think that they would be able to take advantage of the Pat Quinn narrow primary victory, the Scott Lee Cohen problems, the alleged problems about the Senate candidate Giannoulias, but they don't have a Republican nominee for governor who can take advantage of it.

Mr.�PEARSON: Right, there's no point person to be that Republican spokesman, much like, you know, that's kind of been an issue on the national level.

CONAN: Well, are the Democrats then taking advantage of this opportunity, trying to sprint out to a lead here?

Mr.�PEARSON: Well, there really isn't much they can do because to fill the Scott Lee Cohen vacancy, they basically have to wait until March 5, when they know what the who the members of the Democratic State Central Committee, the governing board governing the congressional districts, their votes are certified by the state on March 5. After that, then we go into the process of they have to select who replaces Scott Lee Cohen on the ballot.

CONAN: So both parties mired in political process, the sausage-making process, which never looks very pretty. Rick Pearson, I'm sure we're going to be checking back in with you. Thanks very much.

Mr.�PEARSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Rick Pearson, political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, with us by phone from his office in the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

And let's go now to the Tea Party movement, which held its first national convention in Nashville last week. Former governor, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin delivered the key note address. NPR's Don Gonyea was there, and he's going to join us momentarily.

If you went to the convention, if you watched it on TV, what did you think? What's next for the Tea Party Movement? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, And joining us now from his home in Washington is Don Gonyea, NPR's long-time White House correspondent, now NPR's new national political correspondent. Congratulations on the new gig, Don, and nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

DON GONYEA: Thank you, glad to be here as always.

CONAN: And give us a sense of who attended here.

GONYEA: Well, this was this was not a cross-section of Tea Party America, if I can use that generic term. I mean, this was a pretty expensive ticket. It was $549 to register for the three-day event, and again, the organizers say they weren't looking for massive crowds.

This wasn't like the rally on the Mall, where they're looking for tens or hundreds of thousands of people to show up, but they had so many slots, they had 600 slots, and they tell us they sold them all at that $549 price tag.

Separately, you had the Sarah Palin keynote speech at dinner Saturday night. If you had registered for the event, you got to go to that, but if you just wanted to come see former Governor Palin speak, that was a $349 ticket.

So this was a rather well-to-do Tea Party gathering, and as such, and in part because it was a convention and not a rally, it did not have, you know, a lot of the energy, a lot of the aggression that we have all come to associate with the Tea Party at those very loud town hall meetings and at, you know, any number of events they've held in small towns and on the Washington Mall in D.C.

CONAN: Was there much of an effort to establish organizations to build this as a structure?

GONYEA: Yes and no. Everybody there spoke about how they, well, while they came to this convention, they weren't necessarily aligning themselves with Tea Party Nation.

There are a lot of different Tea Party groups out there, some national, some not. Most people I talked to said they were going to go back to their community, and if they were involved in a group there, then that's the group they'll be affiliated with.

They came to the convention to learn new skills, to learn organizing skills, to learn media skills, to learn how to defeat liberals, as one of the sessions covered.

So it was not so much a big this is the new national Tea Party organization, but the group that organized this event, and again, this was a for-profit event, did set up a political action committee and a separate 501(c)(4) nonprofit entity to raise money and money that they say will be channeled into getting conservatives elected, Tea Party-friendly candidates elected.


RUDIN: Well, I guess the big question that I have is: What's the long, lasting impact of this party? We saw, of course, in 1992, Ross Perot, and he got, you know, the 19 million votes, and he excited a lot of people, but there was no national Perot movement.

There was a Reform Party that didn't seem to go anywhere. The question is whether these, the Tea Party people go home, and do they organize a third party, do they try to influence the Republican Party? What's the long-range impact of the party?

GONYEA: And there is no clarity on that question after this convention. I talked to a lot of people about that, and some say they definitely want a third party. They want to see the Tea Party on the ballot. But others would just as quickly say hey, that just divides the vote, probably takes votes away from Republicans and makes it more likely for Democrats to win some of these close races. So they would say they want the Tea Party to be active, trying to make sure that Democrats and Republicans, Republicans and Democrats, nominate candidates to their liking.

Now, I didn't find anybody who could name a Democrat to their liking. I mean, Joe Lieberman's name would come up every now and then.

RUDIN: Democrat?

GONYEA: Well, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Democrats don't much like Joe Lieberman at the moment, either, but...

GONYEA: But that seemed to be the predominate view, that they can have an impact and that contested primaries are a really great thing and it'll keep the Republican Party mostly honest, in their view.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. If you attended the Tea Party convention or if you watched it on TV, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: Jeff on the line from Naples, Florida.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, I just want to make a statement that, you know, I feel like this whole idea of Tea Party has been kind of (unintelligible) and carjacked, really, because I wanted to vote for Ron Paul back in the last election, and I'm an independent - I did end up voting for Obama. But you know, I'm a constitutionalist, Im for fiscal conservatism, but this whole idea of the Tea Party has been kind of hijacked and it's now being used and moved forward by conservative Republicans and radicals and - that don't really follow the heart of what Ron Paul was about.

CONAN: Ron Paul, of course, at one time the libertarian presidential candidate, ran for the Republican nomination last time around, and of course did not get it. That was John McCain. But his name is - and libertarianism that he represents, Don Gonyea, often raised in connection with the Tea Party movement and, of course, his son Rand Paul.

GONYEA: Right. And, yeah, Ron Paul was not at this event. There were some former Republican officeholders there, certainly Governor Palin, Tom Tancredo, the former congressman from Colorado who ran for president on, really, basically on an anti-immigration platform. But you did not see people sporting Ron Paul buttons or talking about Ron Paul as a way for this party to go forward at that three-day event down there in Nashville.

CONAN: Let's go next to Patricia. Patricia with us from St. Louis.

PATRICIA (Caller): Hi, yeah. We've had the Tea Party here for a while now. They go down to the Arch and put their tea bags in the Mississippi. And all I can say is what it looks like from here in the middle of America, there's a lot of different people that are very unhappy about a lot of different things - nobody can seem to agree - and they're very unorganized. And I would honestly hate to see them get organized because they seem to be against everything. They don't have a platform thats for anything.

CONAN: Well, is that accurate, Don Gonyea? There were - you know, they are against higher taxes, they're against, you know, President Obama's vision of health care, they're against a lot of spending that hes been in favor of. But what are they for? Did they figure that out down there in Nashville?

GONYEA: They did not. What they say is they are for less government, a smaller government, a less intrusive government. They also say they are for, you know, a very strict interpretation of what the Constitution is. And they level all kinds of charges against President Obama, that he is tearing up the Constitution, that he is a threat to America. Incidentally, you know, we heard things like that about President Bush as well. So this is not a new thing to hear about a president, but it is absolutely true.

I mean, predominantly when you talk to people, you know, the first thing out of their mouth would be the smaller government, you know, (unintelligible) Tea Party - T-E-A stands for taxed enough already. So they would talk about that but - and that's how they portray their movement. But when you get into these workshops, and they did let the press in to workshops - it was initially going to be a closed event and they let us in and they let us watch, you know, someone would stand up and say, I'm from Hawaii. And then they would reach into their pocket and they would hold up a piece of paper and they would say, this is what a real Hawaii birth certificate looks like.

And of course they're raising the whole question that President Obama was born in Kenya or not born in the United States or somewhere. And the cheers that go up in the room at that moment are, you know, very spontaneous, very loud, very enthusiastic. So they certainly love those kind of topics as well. Though none of them would say this is what we're about.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Patricia. We're talking with Don Gonyea and Ken Rudin on the Political Junkie. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Don, obviously everybody knew Sarah Palin was speaking there, but there were some other people addressing this convention as well, among them Tom Tancredo - was immigration a theme?

GONYEA: Again, it was not an overt theme of the week, except when Tom Tancredo - he gave the opening night speech at the opening kind of reception that they had, the opening gathering. And, again, he was cheered when he called President Obama Barack Hussein Obama. And when he said that he had been elected, he called them - and I'm going to forget now - a committed ideologue socialist who was elected by people who can't even read the word vote in English or spell it. And again, thunderous applause at that point.

CONAN: Tom Tancredo, the former Republican congressman who ran on an anti-immigration ticket for the Republican nomination for president. Again, he didn't make it. Ken?

RUDIN: Well, also, you know, whenever you talk about a movement - whenever you talk about a protest movement, it is usually against something. You're against the war, you're against civil rights, you're against something. Patricia had it early - the person who called earlier and talked about there was lack of organization. I think they revel in the fact that there's a lack of organization. It's not a movement with a leader. It's like hundreds of thousands of individual movements that hopefully, for their part, they can rally behind a similar cause, but there's no leadership that's coming out of this group.

CONAN: Well, maybe there is, maybe there isn't. Sarah Palin said the movement does not need a leader. She does not want to be the leader of the movement but

GONYEA: King or queen, she said, in fact.

CONAN: Exactly, but then- run, Sarah, run. Run, Sarah, run.

GONYEA: Yes. And, you know, the interesting thing to watch in her speech was -I was wondering what kind of speech she would give. I had not seen her speak since the '08 campaign. I probably last saw her sometime in October of '08. And I was anxious to see her, you know, freed of the handlers that followed her around during the McCain-Palin campaign. And I wondered if she would push back at all at some of the elements within the Tea Party, you know, the anti-immigration or the, you know, Obama-wasn't-born-in-the-United-States stuff.

She did not push back. She didn't mention that stuff, but she offered nothing but praise for the Tea Party movement and what it is, embraced it wholly and encouraged them to keep doing what they're doing. And she sure felt like someone who was looking like and acting like a leader of this movement, even as she was saying the movement doesn't need a leader or a king or a queen.

CONAN: Don Gonyea with us - our new national political correspondent, joining us from his home in Washington, D.C. And of course Ken Rudin, our political junkie, who joins us every Wednesday here on TALK OF THE NATION, joined us from his home in Maryland. Gentlemen, thanks very much.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And you can read Ken's column, The Political Junkie. Where he did get the name? And also his Podcast - at Just click on Junkie.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.