If an NAACP resolution condemning “racist elements” in the “tea party” was meant to chasten the conservative protest movement, it appears to have had the opposite effect.
A day after the civil rights organization passed a resolution that linked the tea party to white supremacist groups’ websites, candidates and leaders sympathetic to the movement on Wednesday erupted in a defense and lashed back with attacks of their own.
One site featured a series of blog posts titled “I condemn the NAACP.” A movement leader accused the group of “looking to make a buck off skin color.” Sarah Palin, in a lengthy Facebook post, branded the resolution a “regressive and diversionary tactic to change the subject.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele dismissed assertions of racism within the tea party and described tea party activists as ordinary citizens concerned about the role of government.
“Not all of them,” replied Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for policy at the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
For both, the strategies serve a dual purpose: firing up a base of reliable voters while persuading moderates that the other side has abandoned them.
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said the NAACP resolution affirms what many African Americans already suspect about the tea party movement, which polls show is overwhelmingly white. It also may reach those who aren’t paying close attention.
“There are a lot of independent and moderate voters who are not very actively engaged on a day-to-day basis and aren’t happy with Washington. They may feel enchanted by these organizations who are claiming to be fighting for them,” Simmons said. “But there are these very troubling strains that would cause a lot of voters to distance themselves from the tea party if they were more aware.”
Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, speaking on CNN, described the NAACP as “a bunch of old fossils looking to make a buck off skin color.”
Democrats believe the “troubling strains” go beyond accusations of racism. In Nevada, the campaign of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid has tried to link his tea-party-affiliated opponent to so-called “birthers” who question President Obama’s birthplace. In Kentucky, Democrats have made hay out of how Republican candidate Rand Paul’s libertarian philosophy could undermine environmental and safety regulations.
In Iowa, a tea party group posted a billboard comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin. After the billboard made national news, the group acknowledged it was a poor decision, and on Wednesday took it down.