by Rob Natelson

The disastrous fallout from Rand Paul’s incautious MSNBC interview shortly after his triumph in the Kentucky Republican primary underlines a real danger for the Tea Party movement as we move toward the 2010 elections.

Any political pro could have told Paul not to give that interview. If it had not been a moment of heady triumph, Paul would have known that himself.

But triumph has a way of making people careless.

“Hubris” generally is thought of as wanton pride. For daily purposes, though, it better applies to situations when, fresh from victory, we become a little careless. “I’m on a roll,” the emotions tell us, “the normal rules don’t apply to me any more.”

Paul’s misstep is not the only example. Here in Montana, one of our county Tea Party groups was going from triumph to triumph. So they decided to sponsor a huge “Liberty Convention” — but in doing so, they disregarded some of the hard lessons Montana conservatives have learned over the years.

First, they assumed that people with full-time jobs and families to support would attend a two-day event. [Lesson broken: People with real-world lives can’t afford to spend much time at political rallies—especially not overnight. The big Tea Party crowds of the past year are an anomaly, and probably will not continue. Anyway, the highly competent main-street citizens who are the back-bone of the Tea Party movement are better employed on projects other than sitting in audiences and holding signs.]

Second, the organizers predicted to the press that 5000 attendees would gather in this sparsely populated state. [Lesson broken: Never give an optimistic attendance prediction to the press.]

Third, the organizers chose a huge venue in the most liberal city in the state on the most liberal university campus in the state. [Lessons broken: (1) It’s better to crowd into a smaller facility than make a larger one look empty, and (2) if you want to catch fish, fish where the fish are.]

Fourth: they featured several speakers from the far fringes of political life. [Lesson broken: feature speakers with wide appeal.]

Fifth: They apparently did not seek or follow guidance from those with political organizing experience. [Lesson broken: If you want political success, do what the our Founders did: include experienced politicians; you don’t have to let them take over.] [Disclosure: I was one of those excluded from planning or speaking at the event.]

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The results were deeply embarrassing for the Tea Party movement. Instead of the 5000 predicted, only about 250 people showed up, a point emphasized again and again by the local press. Not surprisingly, moreover, newspaper reports featured some of the weirdest comments made there.

Tea Party activists must remember that they are now playing in the Big Leagues. The latter-day Tories who control the federal government and most of the national media will exploit any available opening to discredit and destroy the movement.

Avoid hubris. The task has just begun.

Rob Natelson is a long-time Professor of Law at the University of Montana and a leading constitutional scholar. He is co-author of a forthcoming book on the Necessary and Proper Clause to be published by Cambridge University Press. He is also the author of The Original Constitution: What it Actually Said and Meant, published by the Tenth Amendment Center. Professor Natelson will shortly be leaving academia to work full-time at the Independence Institute.

Rob Natelson

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