Monday, October 24, 2011

The Tea Party and Mitt Romney

By Michael Johns

Among the tea party movement's many political and policy accomplishments, it is now well established that the movement has positioned itself as the most influential force in determining the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee. But while the movement's political influence is indisputable, its precise political preference in the 2012 Presidential election remains less clear. Each Republican candidate can point to some degree of support within the tea party movement, and several candidates--such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Ron Paul--can even boast that the tea party movement constitutes a substantial foundation of their respective national political support.

And then there is Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor may well represent the most significant paradox and challenge to the tea party since the movement's 2009 founding. While the Tea Party is unified in the objective of removing President Barack Obama in 2012, it is less clear whether the movement is prepared to select a candidate such as Romney, whose conservatism remains in question over his continued support for the 2008 bank bailouts and a mandatory state health insurance policy that he instituted during his governorship. "Romney is not a conservative," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh stated unequivocally earlier this month.

Yet, according to a Gallup Poll released earlier this month, Romney remains competitive among self-identified tea party voters, garnering the support of 17 percent of them. That places him substantially behind frontrunner Herman Cain, who is preferred among 27 percent of tea party voters, and one point behind Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is preferred among 18 percent of these voters. But it places him ahead of the six remaining Republican Presidential candidates, several of whom are self-declared tea party candidates: Bachmann, Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Jr., Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum.

Despite his third place showing in the recent Gallup Poll, however, several tea party groups and leaders remain adamantly opposed to his candidacy. "I don’t know of a single tea party person who likes or supports Romney,” Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, told The New York Times this past August. The Washington, D.C.-based group FreedomWorks, which has been supportive of the tea party movement, similarly has derided Romney, with FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe stating that "if every political opportunist claiming to be a tea partier is accepted unconditionally, then the tea party brand loses all meaning."

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