Ron Johnson and the Tale of Two Tea Parties

Americans for Prosperity's (AFP) intervention in the GOP U.S. Senate primary has exposed a serious division in the Tea Party movement.

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Representatives from Tea Party groups throughout Wisconsin sent out an angrily-worded press release just last week denouncing reports that Johnson was the “Tea Party candidate.” Recall just a couple months ago when several of those on the release led a boycott of the Tax Day Tea Party event after AFP-WI President Mark Block put Tommy Thompson and Ron Johnson on the speaking program, despite several other announced Republican candidates including Dave Westlake and the twosome of Terrence Wall and Dick Leinenkugel, who have since dropped out of the campaign.

So who has been pulling the strings at the Tea Party if not the Tea Party itself. The answer is Mark Block. A longtime Republican operative and former Tommy Thompson campaign manager, Block has been drafting unsuspecting middle-class Wisconsinites to attend his corporate-financed brand of Tea Parties throughout the state (the one’s we always hear about). Given Block’s background, it should come as no surprise that the Tax Day Tea Party in Madison was nothing more than a lecture about how giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations is such a good plan for our future, with tired jokes about global warming.

But Thompson wasn’t the only one pondering a run for office to speak at the Tax Day Tea Party. Ron Johnson, an unknown millionaire from Oshkosh, was also there. He had just announced he was thinking about running.

The buzz is that Block, having a relationship with Thompson and knowing he wasn’t going to run, needed to have his replacement there to encourage the flock, i.e. Johnson, not to stray.

Evidence appears to support the claims. An April 13 blog post from AFP’s website includes a detailed speaking program for the April 15 event at the State Capitol in Madison that made no mention of Johnson: http://tinyurl.com/2aqk2fp.

A post the following day touting Thompson’s addition also suddenly included Johnson’s name buried in the revised list of speakers: http://tinyurl.com/29oxlzq.

Lo and behold, one month later, unknown millionaire Johnson had sealed the Republican Party nomination without the endorsement of entry-level Tea Partiers.

Not surprisingly, now Johnson is shilling for Americans for Prosperity’s key interest: big oil. Recycling a Sarah Palin talking point about somehow environmentalists pushing BP offshore to spill its own oil, Johnson recently told the Associated Press he supported drilling in the ANWR.

I guess destroying the environment via the water isn’t enough; we need to do it on land too.

Anyway, Johnson had a choice: drink from the cups of grassroots Tea Party groups – however misguided they are – or sip one back with Mark Block, a big business front group, and the old school Republican establishment. To the dismay of the former, he chose the latter.

And that is why these misguided Tea Partiers are meeting this week.  And this should be a lesson to anyone about what happens when you get in bed with big oil and big insurance’s GOP-front group.

Tea Party, you just got served.

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Cody currently oversees online communications, web development, and graphic design at One Wisconsin Now & the Institute, having served previously as Deputy Research Director.