South Carolina GOP, Tea Party seek cooperation

GREENVILLE, S.C. --- The South Carolina GOP is ditching the idea of forming a Tea Party Republican group while leaders say they are finding ways to make the party appeal more to the activists.


Last month, rumblings that the Greenville Republican Party's leadership wanted to create a formal group rattled Tea Party activists. But a couple of weekends of meetings ended with the GOP backing down and state Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd holding a news conference announcing an accord.

In the Upstate, 22 Tea Party groups will work with the GOP on common goals, including "working closely to make the Republican Party more conservative," Greenville County GOP Chairman Patrick Haddon said.

Other goals include getting more involved at precinct level and improving communication.

The groups have "more in common than what divides us. So, we took a look at the substance and not the form," Floyd said. She stressed creating a Tea Party Republican group was never pushed at the state level.

But the concept, proposed by a state party officer, was enough to touch off a storm.

"When this whole controversy got started, we felt under threat that our movement -- our values -- were trying to be consumed by a political party," said Harry Kibler, a Tea Party leader who helped broker the compromise. "We don't like that. We came together very quickly to protect that."

The groups "did and still do want to remain independent and work from outside the party. But we are willing to support the goals that we have in common," Kibler said.

But there are different views of how Tea Party activists will be involved in the GOP going forward.

For instance, Bill Rhodes, of Greer, formed a Tea Party group that has 550 Greenville County members. His goal is to control the county party -- one of the state's largest.

While consultant Chip Felkel, of Greenville, admires the movement, he says it's a mistake for GOP leadership to give Tea Party activists this much credibility.

"We need to get our own act together and not spend our time trying to co-opt someone else's enthusiasm," he said.