Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has often been cited by the general media as the favorite presidential candidate to win the GOP nomination. With consistently high poll numbers, he may have the best shot at beating President Obama in the general election. However, along with high poll numbers is the consistent lack of enthusiasm for Romney by the Tea Party, leaving many wondering if the Tea Party members would get behind him if he is the nominee.
While enjoying such high general support, however, Romney seems less concerned with winning the Tea Party vote, a move that perhaps signals a decrease in influence held by the newly formed grassroots group.
Although Romney’s implementation of a mandated health insurance policy in Massachusetts, similar to Obama-care, has garnered the most criticism from the right, the Tea Partiers have other legitimate reasons for being weary of the governor – namely his shifty positions on social issues. While most Tea Party members are strongly pro-life and anti-gay marriage, Romney has shown himself to be a bit of a flip-flopper on all three major social issues.
In 1994, Romney declared during a Senate debate that while he personally thinks abortion is immoral, it should nevertheless be “safe and legal.” He also promised to uphold the controversial Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, declining to make abortion illegal in America.
Furthermore, in that same year Romney sent a letter to a gay Republican group saying he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than his Massachusetts Senate opponent Sen. Ted Kennedy.
"We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern," wrote Romney. Again, since his presidential run in 2008, Romney has drastically changed his policies. He signed a pledge sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage earlier this year supporting a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage “as the union of one man and one woman.”
“Romney is a total flip flop. He sounded like he was more liberal than Ted Kennedy (in that Senate debate). Now he’s trying to act like he’s more conservative than Ronald Regan,” Judd Philips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, told The Christian Post.
Despite these differences, Romney continues to enjoy strong GOP support in the polls, fundraisers, and debates than the other more Tea Party friendly candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. So does this mean the Tea Party has lost influence within the GOP?
Many Tea Partiers, including Philips, don’t think so.
“That’s untrue. The Tea Party hasn’t lost influence. Romney is the only establishment candidate out there other than Jon Huntsman. Romney has been consistently polling between 20 and 25 percent,” he noted.
“Polls are important but they are only a snapshot. About 70 percent of the Republicans who are surveyed want someone else. There is this mythology that Romney’s nomination is inevitable. I don’t think that’s true.”
Jack Staver, chairman of 9/12 Project, a group closely aligned with the Tea Party, told The Christian Post that the Tea Party’s main goal is to get people actively involved in politics.
“And that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’ve done. We want to get people out of the house and off the couch. That’s where they’ve been in the past. People sat home because they felt like they couldn’t make a difference within politics. The Tea Party changed that.”
Staver went on to say that a Tea Party group in Los Angeles holds weekly meetings that garners 500 to700 participants each week. This, according to Staver, is a sign that the Tea Party is meeting its goals of getting people more engaged in Washington’s policies.
“I personally think it’s dangerous for a Tea Party group or 9/12 group to come out and endorse a candidate as a group. If that candidate goes sideways, you (as a group) are associated with that. As a group it’s more important to get people as individuals to go out and get engaged.”
Sal Russo, co-founder and chief executive of the Tea Party Express, tends to agree with Staver that there is no “one” Tea Party backed candidate. He told CP that it is “bogus” to think the Tea Party has lost influence just because Romney is the front-runner. The only thing that unifies the Tea Party is economic issues, according to Russo. The Tea Party as a whole does not endorse any particular social or foreign policy agenda.
“There are a lot of Tea Party groups that have gotten involved in social issues. We have more libertarian Tea Partiers that support gay marriage and reproductive rights issues. Some are for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, others are against it. And then we have the Christian Tea Partiers who are against gay rights and abortions. It’s a very diverse group.”
A CNN poll released on Sept. 12 suggests Russo may be correct in saying that the Tea Party does not hold any unifying viewpoints aside from economic issues. The poll revealed that 80 percent of the Tea Party members would vote for whoever runs against Obama, showing they are more open to pragmatism than ideological purity.
Russo pointed out that “all 10 GOP candidates have long term economic plans that resonate with the Tea Party members” and that “the vote is split because there are varying social and foreign policy views within the group.”
“The Tea Party is like an iceberg. The top 5 percent have their signs and their T-shirts, and the media loves to focus on them. But then you have 20-30 percent who claim to be card-carrying members and verbally associate themselves with the Tea Party. But then you have around 40 percent that agree with the Tea Party on economic issues but aren’t sure what the Tea Party is. They aren’t willing to vocally identify with the group but they like the Tea Party candidates.”
Russo stressed that there is more diversity in the Tea Party than people think there is.
“Just look at the November 2010 elections. When you elect more Republicans to office since 1928, you have to have a broad support base. You don’t win that kind of election with just the colonial hat wearers and sign carriers.”
According to Philips, however, the Tea Party Nation did a straw poll which revealed that 60 percent of the Tea Party members would “hold their nose and vote for Romney” if he did get the nomination.
“That’s the message for the GOP establishment. If Romney gets the nomination, he is going to have a hard time getting Tea Party support. The Tea Party has deiced if Romney is the nominee, they will vote for him, but they won’t spend a lot of time or money supporting him.”
“My plan of action for this campaign,” Philips continued, “is to do everything I can to make sure the choice does not come down to Romney or Obama.”
“If it does, I’d push the button for Romney but I’d be voting for the lesser of two evils. He will be like the second term of Barack Obama.”
Philips said the country needs a president who will “rip liberalism from the government” and Romney, through his past policies such as health care, is just not the candidate for that job. If Romney is elected, according to Philips, many of Obama’s unpopular policies are likely to remain intact.
“The one good thing about a potential Romney nomination? He’s not Barack Obama. But that’s not saying much,” said Philips.