In a bitter internecine feud that is creating serious divisions in the Tea Party movement, David McKalip — the Florida doctor and health-care reform foe who got in hot water this summer after forwarding a racist picture showing President Obama as a witch doctor — appears to have sided with a group run by GOP consultants, rather than with his former grassroots allies.
In an email to fellow members of the Tea Party Patriots, sent yesterday and obtained by TPMmuckraker, Texas-based activist Gerald Merits wrote that he has been “approached by a neurosurgeon very active in the movement in Florida asking for me to get involved with the Tea Party Express because the Tea Party Patriots just don’t seem to get it.”
Merits was almost certainly referring to McKalip, a St. Petersburg-area neurosurgeon and energetic conservative activist. In the wake of the racist email flap, McKalip pledged to temporarily take a lower profile in the health-care fight, but in recent weeks has re-emerged into the spotlight.
Lately, an acrimonious dispute between the Tea Party Patriots and the Tea Party Express has threatened to weaken the anti-government movement that seemed to have significant momentum earlier this year. Despite its ties to the corporate-backed FreedomWorks lobbying group, the Patriots can make a legitimate claim to being a grassroots movement of ordinary Americans opposed to what they see as high taxes and the growth of government. TPE, by contrast, was created by a team of GOP consultants including noted bamboozler Howard Kaloogian, whose 2006 Republican bid for Congress from California ran aground after he was caught passing off photos of Istanbul as Baghdad, in an effort to argue that war-torn Iraq was safe.
In internal email exchanges and in public comments, proudly independent Patriots have denounced Kaloogian’s group as “the Astroturf Express” — inauthentic Johnny-come-latelys in hoc to the Republican Party, who are trying to capitalize on the grassroots energy unleashed by the Tea Party movement for their own ends. Amy Kremer, a TPP founder and high-profile spokeswoman, was recently removed from the group’s board after participating in events with Tea Party Express, whose website now lists her as a leader.
In a message sent yesterday to Tea Party Express activists, the group’s “chief strategist,” Sal Russo, referenced the intra-movement feud, and tried to downplay it. Russo, a GOP consultant and long-time partner of Kaloogian, wrote that he was “sadden[ed] and disturb[ed] … to see even a few fellow conservatives or tea party activists take shots at us.” Russo dismissed the Patriots’ criticism as “silliness” and “ugliness” from “a few bad apples.”
Before shooting himself in the foot with that racist email, McKalip had been an active participant in Tea Party Patriots email lists. And in announcing his temporary withdrawal, he had urged his fellow Patriots to carry on the fight. So it’s interesting to see him apparently throwing in his lot with a rival group that his former comrades-in-arms had denounced as impostors.
One recipient of Merits’s recent message, Patriots loyalist Josh Parker, responded with alarm to McKalip’s apparent play:
If the Tea Party Express goons are trying to break the movement into competing TPP and TPE affiliated groups, that’s very troubling…
McKalip, Merits, Kremer, and a spokesman for Tea Party Express all did not respond to TPMmuckraker’s separate requests for comment.