Matt Towery

When it first came to life, the tea party movement burst on the scene with energy and pure direction that seared many a mind with images of huge crowds waving the red, white and blue. It was all about taxes, and curtailing government spending, and liberty.

And it worked. The crowds at tea party movement protests grew month-by-month in 2009 and became larger in 2010. The GOP establishment slowly started to get the message that it was time to put the foot down on the ways of Washington and start speaking up for the conservative movement.

But the "tea party" has always been more a state of mind than an organized movement. And the movement's impact in the 2012 presidential election came into question when Mitt Romney, who had positions on most issues that were more conservative than those of John McCain in 2008, underperformed McCain in votes from key GOP-leaning demographics.

There are hundreds of organizations around the nation bearing the tea party name. And if their overall influence among voters was waning earlier this year, the revelation of IRS targeting against organizations bearing names that even hinted of tea party leanings gave the movement as a whole a chance for rejuvenation.

That said, there is emerging a risk that the movement could start to muddle its message and fumble back the political football gift it received when the IRS actions hit the news.

To stick with the football analogy for a moment, I can almost hear the late "Monday Night Football" announcer Howard Cosell's voice as he describes this moment in time for those who are part of the tea party movement. "But suddenly the ball comes loose from the running back's arms, and the opposing team recaptures what it had just lost ... the ball and momentum in the game ... and on the sidelines team members could be found fighting amongst themselves."

Oh, yes, that could be where this great movement is headed. Consider just one example in the heartland of the tea party, Republican controlled Georgia.

There are numerous organizations that lay claim to the tea party moniker in that state. And, to their credit, each has seemed to operate effectively in shaping Georgia's GOP to the very conservative edge of conservative.

But in the last few months, the groups have started warring. Not over taxes, or the federal debt, or immigration. Their war is over, of all things, solar energy.

That's right, the various tea party "leaders" have decided to dominate the news talking not about the IRS or PRISM, but solar energy. This is the very same well intended but obscure effort that brought about the entire Solyndra debacle that so embarrassed the Obama administration.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
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