“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”   I Corinthians 13:11

If you have a child you can clearly identify childish behavior.  It’s not pretty.  But you understand and tolerate such behavior because you know that as that child matures, and he learns from instruction, his tantrums, pettiness, selfishness, and other childish behavior will become less and less prominent.  And as he grows into adulthood, he will likely become well adjusted.  He will respect others.  He will learn that to achieve his goals, he must often help others achieve theirs.  And ultimately, he puts away childish behavior.  

I was present at the inception of the tea party movement, having founded the Chattanooga Tea Party in April 2009.  It wasn’t my first rodeo, but the challenge of organizing and leading a grassroots movement was new.  So I came of age so to speak with this movement.  And I met a lot of wonderful people.  Many of those people are dear friends today.  Those who joined the movement were ordinary Americans who simply loved their communities and nation, and were worried that their future was gray and bleak.  And the facts and stats affirmed their concerns.

The tea party movement accomplished a lot in its early years, when enthusiasm was high and strategy was limited.  But as the years wore on, it became obvious that strategy and thoughtful deliberation would become more important.  No longer could the movement sustain itself on raw emotion, anger, or passion.  Rather, to succeed, it would require that we learn from our mistakes and failures.  Sadly though, nearly ten years later, the movement continues to struggle with the same blunders. 

As is the case with most elections, there are often several candidates who could be split into various tiers.  The first tier is the “perfect” candidate who might have a near unblemished track record, and his/her fidelity to tea party values is unquestioned.  

The second tier includes candidates who, while their voting record may not align perfectly with tea party values, and there may be other “complaints” some in the movement will lodge, they do have redeeming qualities.  Ultimately, if elected, they would advance many values the movement supports.  

Then there are the third tier candidates.  These are the ones who are so offensive or wrong in their policies, affiliations or track records, that most tea party members would likely never support them.  What we find though is that the candidates in Tier 1 are typically underfunded and thus not electable, while Tier 2 & 3 often have sufficient funds to mount a credible campaign.  

These three tiers expose one of the greatest flaws of the tea party movement: its unwillingness to coalesce together.  Independent elements, personalities, and egos are rampant in the movement, and unwillingness to tolerate the slightest variance from “perfection” is the norm.

Sadly, many tea party members are unwilling to consider anyone outside of Tier 1.  Because of this reality, what invariably happens is that other credible and acceptable candidates in Tier 2 are maligned and rejected.  Additionally, because Tier 3 candidates not only have sufficient funds, but they typically garner the establishment Republican voters, Tier 1 & 2 voters split all the other remaining votes.  Consequently the Tier 3 candidate often wins.  In every case this has been the worst case scenario for the movement, our state and nation.  We saw it with Romney in 2012.  And in Tennessee, we saw it with Governor Bill Haslam.  And Lamar Alexander.  And Bob Corker.  And others. 

Now again in 2017-18, tea party members in Tennessee are repeating the same old mistake.  The fidelity by many to their “perfect” but unelectable candidate is blinding them from the reality that there may be another “acceptable” candidate who is both credible and electable.  

Let me digress for a moment to state that there are times when one may not, for conscience sake, be able to vote for anyone in Tier 2 or Tier 3.  If that is the case, I would never attempt to judge someone else’s conscience.  At that point, it’s a deeply personal decision and no one should ever question someone’s deep rooted beliefs when they enter the voting booth.  

But in the absence of a moral reservation, the movement is missing another opportunity to help influence, and ultimately select, the next Governor in Tennessee.  It may require some to select what they consider to be a Tier 2 candidate.  But if they do, they will be selecting a candidate who can actually win, and they would be revealing a maturity that heretofore has been missing in the movement. 

Growing up requires that we oftentimes sacrifice perfection for good.  Maturity understands that we don’t always get what we want.  Honesty enables us to look into the future and predict what will likely occur and use our best efforts to influence that future.  Conversely, dishonesty keeps us glued to our own narrow-mindedness, trapped in our own little echo-chambers.  

Sadly though, if a movement never grows up, it ceases to be relevant.  And once it’s no longer relevant, it doesn’t have long to live. 

The tea party movement in Tennessee is at a crossroads.  It can stay on its present course and drive over the cliff, never to influence again.  Or it can take a right turn, and begin to coalesce around principled pragmatism, which is simply recognizing reality and attempting to win as many battles as possible by remaining as true as possible to one’s principles.  

Losing elections never advances one’s principles.  Winning elections with imperfect candidates can advance some of our principles.

So will the tea party movement put away childish attitudes and grow up, or simply fade away?