Meet the Tea Party's 'Messiah' and the GOP's Headache

Here at The Gaggle, we have been so caught up in reporting on Rand Paul that we've neglected to tell you about another anti-establishment Tea Party candidate who has the Republican nomination within his grasp.

Meet Tim D'Annunzio, a candidate in North Carolina's Eighth Congressional District Republican primary. He led the initial GOP primary vote earlier this month but failed to secure enough votes to avoid a runoff. Now, campaigning on a fierce antigovernment platform, D'Annunzio is up against establishment Republican and former sportscaster Harold Johnson—and he has a good shot at beating him. But whereas the GOP has generally acquiesced to the populist demands of the Tea Party, Republican officials in North Carolina are reportedly working to derail D'Annunzio's campaign. Why? To put it politely, they are worried about his "electability."

From the AP:

In Hoke County divorce records [circulated by GOP officials], his wife said in 1995 that D'Annunzio had claimed to be the Messiah, had traveled to New Jersey to raise his stepfather from the dead, believed God would drop a 1,000-mile-high pyramid as the New Jerusalem on Greenland and found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona. A doctor's evaluation the following month said D'Annunzio used marijuana almost daily, had been living with another woman for several months, had once been in drug treatment for heroin dependence and was jailed a couple of times as a teenager.

The doctor concluded that his religious beliefs were not delusional. A judge wrote in a child support ruling a few years later that D'Annunzio was a self-described "religious zealot" who believed the government was the "Antichrist." The judge said he was willfully failing to make child support payments.

D'Annunzio has refused to address the document's details, saying only that his religious conversion 16 years ago allowed him to overcome his "troubled upbringing." But he did offer this truer-than-it-sounds bit of rhetoric: "The bigger story is that the power brokers in Raleigh and in Washington are willing to go to any length and use any unscrupulous tactic to try to destroy somebody. They think that they're losing control over the Republican Party."

He's right. Crazy politicians these days are a dime a dozen, but there is a serious issue underlying all the amusing campaign ads and political gaffes—namely, the double-edged sword the Tea Party insurgencies have become.

Take Vaughn Ward, for example. The Tea Party–backed congressional candidate in Idaho may have seemed at first like a gift to the GOP. Sure, technically he was the "anti-establishment" Republican in the race, but he was running on a firmly conservative platform, had the endorsement of Sarah Palin (an exceptionally popular figure in Idaho), and seemed like he would be able to rally the Republican base to the polls. It wasn't long, however, before reports surfaced that Ward had plagiarized parts of President Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

This was after Ward referred to Puerto Rico as a country during a GOP primary debate. When his opponent responded that Puerto Rico was, in fact, a U.S. territory, Ward said sharply, "I really don't care what it is. It doesn't matter." But despite committing the type of political blunders that might have torpedoed a campaign in another climate, Ward maintains a slight lead in the polls going into today's primary election.

And then, of course, there's Rand Paul, who won the Republican nomination and then promptly denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act before backpedaling and saying he would have voted for the bill.

Candidates like D'Annunzio, Ward, and Paul have the "power brokers" worried, not because they will lose control of the Republican Party, but because they fear the party itself will lose control, measured in terms of elected officials and successful legislative efforts. If it wants to continue to be taken seriously, the GOP will have to draw a line somewhere when it comes to the candidates it will endorse. Perhaps with D'Annunzio, it is finally drawing that line.