Tea Party 2012?

The big story of the 2010 midterm elections was the Tea Party, and all the new ultra-conservative Republicans elected to Congress and some governorships. For those who shared these ultra-conservative views, it looked like 2012 would be the year to run a “true conservative” for president—following from the moderate John McCain who didn’t garner much excitement from this wing of the Republican Party.

Oddly enough, that’s not how things are shaping up. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are currently battling for the top spot, and I wouldn’t describe either as a “Tea Party conservative.” Both men have aspects of their past which make some conservatives uneasy, such as the fact that they’ve both supported a health care individual mandate at one time. Interestingly, the four candidates who are “true conservatives” in my view—Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum—are splintering the conservative vote. Based on the current Gallup polling, if we combined the polling of these four candidates into one “supercandidate,” this person would be tied with Newt Gingrich for first. What would need to happen for a more-conservative nominee is that three of the four would have to drop out and rally behind who’s left, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an effort to rally around one of these candidates. Back when Romney was the clear frontrunner, the search was on to find the best “anti-Romney” to make the conservative case for the nominee. I would have never guessed that person to be Newt Gingrich. Looking at the RealClearPolitics polling, it looks like this was Herman Cain’s doing. As his support drops off to zero, almost all other candidate support stays the same except for Newt’s—which goes way up. This isn’t surprising since Cain and Gingrich are friends—they often complimented one another in the debates and agreed with one-another on a number of ideas.

Oddly enough, it looks like some high-profile Tea-Partiers are happy with the moderate Romney. Mitt has recently received endorsements from Nikki Haley, the current South Carolina governor, and Christine O’Donnell, the failed Republican candidate who ran for the Senate from Delaware in 2010. Both women identify with the Tea Party and were proud to be considered Tea Party candidates, and their endorsements have come with surprise and backlash from Tea Party supporters. (Sidenote— O’Donnell said that she likes Mitt because “he’s been consistent since he changed his mind.” What?) It’s likely that they’re taking a look at the prospects each candidate actually has at winning the White House. Does the Tea Party shtick just not work in a national election like this?

I don’t think so. Winning over independents is the key, and the idea of the Tea Party has become a joke to mainstream America. If the GOP goes too conservative or too Tea Party with their nominee, they’re going to divide America. If they want any shot at winning, they need a candidate who can unite.

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