Gene Healy is dismayed by Santorum’s Tea Party support:
Santorum needn’t have worried: In this year’s contests, he’s regularly drawn more support from Tea Party voters than Ron Paul, who has been described as the “intellectual godfather of the Tea Party movement.”
Exit polls show Santorum beating Paul among self-described Tea Party supporters in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, trailing him only in independent-heavy New Hampshire and Nevada.
There are a few things to say about this. Those that identify themselves as Tea Partiers usually also identify as “very conservative,” and most of them are reliable Republican voters. They are strong partisans who respond to the appeals of political tribalism and combative rhetoric. Gingrich was winning over many of these voters, and so did Santorum, because they present themselves as uncompromising partisans. It didn’t matter that their respective records on fiscal and role of government issues put them closer to the left end of the spectrum within the Republican Party. Many voters were/are unaware of these records, and for those that do know about them Santorum and Gingrich have compensated with hard-line foreign policy and culture war arguments. These are effective more because they reinforce their reputations for combativeness and opposition to the administration rather than anything specific they have to say about policy.
Despite the fact that Ron Paul’s domestic agenda is mostly far more conservative than anything the other candidates are offering and much more in line with what one would think most Tea Partiers want, his reputation as a libertarian and his weak partisanship leave many of his natural “very conservative” supporters cold. One important obstacle for Paul’s foreign policy views inside the party is that those views often lead Paul to side with members of the other party, where there are far more opponents of military action and an intrusive security state. The substance of Paul’s views may be a problem for a minority of Republicans, but what I suspect is a greater problem is the perception that Paul’s views lead him to make common cause with liberal Democrats. That he ends up there because of a thoroughgoing, strict constructionist reading of the Constitution seems to matter less than where he ends up.