It’s barely 8 a.m. and already Jenny Beth Martin sounds both exhausted and outraged. Cofounder of Tea Party Patriots, the largest of the movement’s organizations, Martin is spending an awful lot of time these days hunkered down in meetings. Strategy meetings. Messaging meetings. Meetings aimed at pushing back against what Martin sees as the political establishment’s—most gallingly the Republican establishment’s—“all out war” on fiscally responsible Americans like her members.
“We’re not going to let either party blame us!” asserts the soft-spoken, baby-faced mother of two. “They’ve used us for the past three and a half years, blaming us for the nation’s fiscal problems.” During the debt-ceiling battle two years ago, she recalls, “the president went out and said that we were holding a gun to the American people’s head!”
Since Nov. 6, the Beltway terrain has only gotten bumpier for Martin’s Patriots. Stung by their losses, GOP leaders are moving to marginalize what many see as their party’s more extreme elements. Most notably, earlier this month Speaker John Boehner booted three Tea-minded members from key House committees for bucking leadership on certain votes.
“There is a huge battle going on right now in the center right to determine exactly what that means,” says Martin. And at this moment, even she acknowledges that her side is getting clobbered in Congress. “The leadership has done all they can to solidify power and to punish people who didn’t vote the way Speaker Boehner wanted them to.”
Adding to the drama, on Dec. 6, Sen. Jim DeMint, by far Tea Partiers’ most important champion on the Hill, announced that he was stepping down in January to run the conservative Heritage Foundation. While this puts a venerable think tank in the movement’s hands, it deprives Tea types of a powerful congressional ally. DeMint’s stunner came just two days after another Tea Party organ, Freedom Works, announced that its founder, former House majority leader Dick Armey, was decamping—feeding the perception of a movement in chaos.
All of which has Martin and her colleagues scrambling to figure out what to do next. Better communication with the grassroots is vital, she says, seeing as how “the media and the left have done a good job of portraying the movement in a negative light.” But more targeted steps are also needed, such as putting pressure on state and municipal governments to join the cause.
One perhaps surprising issue the group isn’t bothering much about? The fiscal cliff. Martin is fed up with the current batch of lawmakers and sees no point in going all out to influence this latest display of “political posturing.” She sighs, “We dare them to do the right thing, but we know they’re not going to.”
So while the rest of the political world obsesses about the cliff, Martin and her colleagues will be “sitting back and watching” what she fully expects to be a train wreck. “Then we can remind people that this is exactly what we predicted would happen.”