In the wake of the Tea Party's 2010 victories and losses, a new effort is underway to improve vetting and candidate recruitment. It is an explicit acknowledgement of past mistakes to avoid in the future.
Ned Ryun of MajorityAmerica.org is running a nationwide "New Leaders" program with several Tea Party factions and says the movement is going through some rigorous self-appraisal.
"I will say this when I'm talking with these local leaders they have mentioned by name Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle and said we'd prefer not to have that again in 2012. In many ways they felt it was damaging to the movement to have candidates like," Ryun said.
It is a goal being embraced by several of the major organizations within the broader Tea Party movement.
"We've got to do some vetting of the candidates because we don't want someone getting out there announcing they're a Tea Party candidate, getting some good support and suddenly we discover something terrible about them," said Judson Phillips who organized the first Tea Party Convention as a founder of Tea Party Nation.
Tea Partiers admit they did not know much about Republican Christine O'Donnell's background before supporting her for the GOP nomination in Delaware. It will never be known if a well-run Republican campaign in Nevada may have ousted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but Tea Partiers are painfully aware that Sharron Angle spent more time running from reporters than she did waging a credible campaign.
To the Tea Party, such setbacks amount to growing pains and the operative word is growing. "We want to see candidates that can be far more credible, that are able to effectively communicate the ideas that we know are winning ideas. And not have the other things that came with O'Donnell and Angle campaigns," Ryun said. He is looking to recruit, vet and train new Tea Party candidates based on more successful models. "I would say Ron Johnson in Wisconsin was probably the best example that could really communicate and articulate the ideas of how we grow the economy, how we create more jobs but still believe in limited government and free enterprise."
Another question from the Tea Party's internal review is if it should expand its agenda. They are already debating the addition of social issues. "It absolutely has to be expanded a bit because we had a lot of good success in this election but it's also kind of a mixed bag too," Phillips said. "If you notice the three top Tea Party candidates in the United States Senate didn't get elected. Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller are not going to be sworn in January as senators. So one of the things we need to do is go back to the old Reagan formula, expand our coalition out. Because the conservative coalition has always consisted of both fiscal conservatives and social conservatives."
Phillips would like to see the GOP get tougher on illegal immigration and thinks the Tea Party can help them get a little backbone "The Republicans have been pretty much totally AWOL on illegal immigration over the last few years. Who have been the biggest champions of illegal immigration? George W. Bush. John McCain. Republicans! And this is absolutely infuriating to the base."
Even abortion, by virtue of its federal funding, would be added to the Tea Party portfolio. "We complain about the fact that for over a seven year period from 2002 to 2009 Planned Parenthood got about a billion dollars from the government. Why? That just shouldn't happen," Phillips bemoaned.
But the chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, arguably the most effective faction within the movement at the ballot box for its bare-knuckle ad blitzes, thinks it's best to stick with what works and leave the conservative social issues to the national Republican party platform.
"I'm a little skeptical that it's a good idea to try to supplant the political parties," Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo said. "The Tea Party movement is a movement designed to get candidates who are committed to lowering the size of deficits, stopping the intrusiveness of the federal government and bringing the expansiveness of government under control. I think it's stronger if it sticks to its guns, to that issue."
But that reserve does not mean outright opposition "Our view has always been that the Tea Party movement doesn't have to be united, the strength comes from the thousands of groups that have sprung up around the country and they don't always see eye to eye." Russo quickly added.