The tea party-aligned groups are tiptoeing toward irrelevance in this election cycle. They’ve picked flaky Senate candidates who are doing poorly against mainstream GOP incumbents. And they seem oblivious to the perception that the tea party is a movement of kooks and extremists.

Republican presidential hopefuls (L-R) former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain pose at the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 campaign at St. Anslems College in Manchester, New Hampshire June 13, 2011. REUTERS/Joel Page (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) GOP presidential hopefuls, from left, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain pose at the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 campaign in Manchester, N.H., in June 2011. (Joel Page/Reuters)

A case in point is a New Hampshire event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Citizens United. The New Hampshire Journal reports on a pre-2016 “cattle call” for prospective Republicans. On the GOP side, the invitation list is odd for a pre-2016 presidential summit:

The big draws on the presidential front are Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky as well as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. There will be no Jeb Bush and no Chris Christie. No one conventionally identified with the more moderate (relatively speaking) GOP “establishment.” At some point down the road there will be an establishment candidate. The day-long event on Saturday will begin to define what could be a long battle to become the conservative alternative to whoever emerges from the establishment wing. Others to speak who are mentioned in connection with presidential runs, but far less likely to run, are Donald Trump, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King.

Any group that invites infamous “birther” Donald Trump is asking for ridicule and deserves it. He’s a self-promoter and gadfly who isn’t running for anything and doesn’t speak for anyone but himself. If it wasn’t obvious before, his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March in which he rambled on about “taking Iraq’s oil” and his own wealth should have removed any doubts. His histrionics aren’t even amusing. (“We’re becoming a Third World country,” shouted the billionaire from New York.)

Even worse is the choice of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who was repudiated by his own party last summer for egregious remarks about Hispanics. Why on earth — at a time when the GOP is fighting to escape the stereotype of intolerance — would any GOP group invite him? It’s hard to fathom.

Free advice is worth what you pay for it, but here goes. To other GOP pols attending: Don’t be photographed with King or with Trump. It’s likely to come back to haunt you. And if, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), you are making a pitch to Hispanics, to the party to go “beyond deportations” and to potential primary voters as a guy who can expand the party, you really don’t want to be within arm’s length. As for the hosts of the event, when you invite clowns like Trump and King, it’s not a “cattle call”; it’s a circus.

There are going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of events for the candidates between now and the first primary. The smart candidates will be the ones who select their events carefully, with an eye not only to the primary but also to the general election. They want to appear presidential, not part of a comedy club. They don’t want to suggest they are on the same level with characters like Trump and King. And as the New Hampshire event proves, sometimes the most important scheduling decisions are the events you decide not to attend.