Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa's Real Message? A Still Conflicted Tea Party Movement

By Michael Johns

At least for the next few days, the results of today's Iowa caucuses will dominate the political coverage of the tea party movement and the movement's influence on the 2012 Presidential election. But whatever those results end up being tonight, polls of individual tea party organizations continue to reflect a tea party movement deeply conflicted on which candidate is likely to best represent tea party principles and still defeat President Barack Obama in November.

The good news for the tea party movement's likely effectiveness in this year's general election is that the movement is united on supporting whichever Republican ultimately arises as the party's nominee. Scott Rasmussen, a pollster known for his accuracy, said December 30 that over 90 percent of tea party-aligned voters intend to vote for whichever Republican wins the nomination. That's bad news for Obama, whose top political advisers have hoped that the tea party movement would erupt in civil war over the primary process or, worse yet, support a third candidate, thus splitting the Republican vote.

Meanwhile, however, individual tea party organizations are reflecting deeply conflicting sentiments about their aspirations for the ultimate Republican nominee. In mid-December, reenforcing the promise of Newt Gingrich's candidacy, 23,000 members of the national tea party organization Tea Party Patriots granted Gingrich the most support among all candidates (with 31 percent saying they supported Gingrich), followed by Michele Bachmann (28 percent), Mitt Romney (20 percent), Rick Santorum (16 percent), Ron Paul (three percent) and Jon Huntsman (less than one percent).

Since then, however, two regional tea party organizations have announced candidate endorsements. In Illinois yesterday, the Rockford Tea Party announced results of its organizational poll, which was won by Paul (with 29 percent support) followed by Santorum (24 percent support).

Also yesterday, the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, which has supported conservative candidates in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, became the first tea party organization in the nation to endorse Romney.
In announcing the endorsement, however, the organization appealed mostly to the perceived electability of Romney in November's general election. The tea party movement, the organization said, has "come to realize, or will eventually realize, that the only way to defeat President Obama, whose policies are an anathema to conservatism and the tea party movement, is to rally around his strongest opponent, Mitt Romney."

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