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The Tea Party and Republican Elite Role Reversal

Luckily, RealClearPolitics has republished [1] a portion of Ben Domenech’s very interesting observations from his morning newsletter [2], the Transom:

For the past several weeks, Mitt Romney has been surrounded by critics from the DC-Manhattan elite who’ve denounced him for a lackluster, unfocused campaign, teeing off on Team Romney in the wake of the 47 percent comments for a number of issues—but mostly, in my read, from failing to take their advice. Romney’s defenders, meanwhile, have been many of the same individuals who spent the primary season torching him in effigy as the encapsulation of everything they hate about the Republican ruling class. For months the elites bashed the base for failing to suck it up and see the big picture, to line up for Romney and come on in for the big win. But they got their wish!

The tea party movement—once again proving its pragmatism once the general election season rolls around—lined up in the immediate aftermath of the Paul Ryan pick and has proven they can grow up. Professional concern troll David Frum, who spent most of the primary season telling liberals why conservatives were never going to suck it up and go for Romney, now seems very concerned [3] that they have.  Michelle Malkin, who could be taking the wood to Romney on a daily basis for his infidelity to the immigration hardline, has morphed into a loyal soldier while Peggy Noonan is calling for [4] Romney to bring in the 82-year-old Jim Baker to rescue his campaign (yes, really). Ann Romney seems a bit perturbed [5] about this.

Too true. Domenech goes on to identify that he believes “Bush-era” foreign policy hands are voicing their discontent, anticipating that Romney is more concerned about domestic policy than their pet issues. I’m not so sure of that, but I am sure I’ve noticed the role reversal between the Tea Party and the elites.

It has been a curious thing since the Tea Party movement got its feet wet [6]. That movement made lots of sound and fury. They won a few primary races. But they never threatened to break or split the GOP. The Tea Party wanted only to strengthen the GOP and strengthen the hand of conservatives within it. It was a tame movement born in and for the Republican party.

Why should this surprise David Frum or others? Every Tea Party person I spoke to in the Northeast was absolutely aware of Scott Brown’s “squishiness”, but they were totally committed to his victory, because they hated Obamacare. Similarly, now the Malkins of the world are committed to a Romney victory.

But Domenech goes on to argue that really it is the center-right elite, not the Tea Party who own the Romney candidacy, come what may.

Like it or not, the money and opinion elites on the center-right own Romney’s failure from the perspective of the base—they need him to win. And the reality is that if Romney loses, it will have little if anything to do with Paul Ryan’s big ideas, tactical choices, or elite misgivings—and far more to do with the simple fact that Romney is still disliked by most voters.

This is almost right.

The Michelle Malkins of the world really can disown Romney the moment he loses (if he loses). The problem for Malkin is that conservatives really had no viable alternative, did they? Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich hardly seem like world-beaters to me. Could they ever raise enough money? Could they ever rise above or counter-punch a media that is quite sympathetic to Obama? Those candidacies might have felt good for a certain portion of the right, until the votes got counted.

But the center right may not own this election the way Ben Domenech says (or wishes). They can cite the same things Domenech just cited: the missteps, the lack of strategy, and the general “unlikability” of Mitt Romney. “Sure, we wanted Romney,” David Frum and other could say,  “We had no better alternative, and neither did you. Romney just wasn’t a great campaigner. It runs in the family.”

Failure is an orphan, and if Romney loses (I’m not convinced he will lose), his failure will not be pinned on any other faction.

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#1 Comment By CharleyCarp On September 25, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

To be fair, the Republican elite always expected Gov. Romney to tack smartly towards the center, where the votes are. He hasn’t been able to do that because the far right would rather lose with someone showing fidelity to their positions than win with someone sympathetic, but cognizant of the bigger political picture.

#2 Comment By Permanent TP On September 25, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

To me the Tea Party is more tendency than party. It’s primarily about getting rid of corrupt, two-faced, incompetent politicians. That means kicking out congressmen who voted for the bailouts, the wars, and done nothing about immigration. Our work is not finished, and from what I can see the anger is still hot and the motivation still strong.

#3 Comment By Aaron On September 25, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

”We had no better alternative, and neither did you. Romney just wasn’t a great campaigner. It runs in the family.”

We would be comparing Romney, then, to his mother and her Senate campaign? Because it seems to me that up to the unfortunate moment that he referred to himself as having been brainwashed, George Romney had a very successful political career.

Look at Michigan, the state that twice elected George Romney as governor, and would probably do so again (were the man alive and running). The state’s Republicans recently bucked the party establishment and nominated Rick Snyder as their gubernatorial candidate, a man whose background and claimed qualification for office are a lot like Romney’s. Why can candidates like George Romney and Rick Snyder carry Michigan when by all appearances – and despite the state’s affinity for his father – Mitt Romney cannot? Think of it this way: which two of the three come across as genuine?

To me, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich ended up as the last men standing against Romney not because of their strength, but because of their mediocrity. The nomination process was reminiscent of an episode of “The Weakest Link”, with people like Gingrich and Santorum recognizing that they stood a better chance of making it to the end game by eliminating the better candidates. If you want to know which justices are most likely to leave the court, look at their age and health.

#4 Comment By Aaron On September 25, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

(Sorry, I’m not sure where that last sentence came from.)

#5 Pingback By Romney and the Right's Divisions – NYTimes.com On September 25, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

[…] Townhall and elsewhere — who had been most hostile to his candidacy once upon a time. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty notes in a follow-up, this is part of a general pattern where the Tea Party wing of the party tends to […]

#6 Pingback By Michelle Malkin: Pragmatist in a Foxhole | The American Conservative On September 25, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

[…] with Michael Brendan Dougherty, I recommend Ben Domenech’s insightful take on the role reversal of movement conservatives and […]

#7 Comment By The REAL tea party On September 25, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

This article is bogus. The real ‘teaparty’ formed in 2007, will NOT endorse a candidate, much less Romney. I don’t know who this reporter is talking to but they are NOT a legit tea party… and were likely paid off by Romney.

He tried to do that in so many states and failed. He will lose NH because of this. Imagine, losing your adopted home state? He will, he’s so bad.

#8 Comment By Clint On September 25, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

We Tea Party Patriots are the largest Tea Party Umbrella Group and we do not endorse candidates. That is left to individual Tea Party Patriots own choice.

“Beth Martin, one of the co-founders of the grass-roots group Tea Party Patriots, tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.

Martin noted that the Tea Party Patriots do not endorse candidates but will be focusing on Ryan’s plan to balance the budget.”

#9 Pingback By A Gentleman's view. – Pundit With Serious Case Of Pot Judging Kettle On September 30, 2012 @ 11:40 am

[…] Townhall and elsewhere — who had been most hostile to his candidacy once upon a time. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty notes in a follow-up, this is part of a general pattern where the Tea Party wing of the party tends to […]