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Paul v Gingrich for Soul of the Tea Party?

Russ Douthat posits that Iowa will come down to a choice between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and that this is a battle for the soul of the Tea Party. I’ll explain after the quote why I think this misunderstands the Tea Party:

Most important, they represent two very different endpoints for the Tea Party movement. Paul, for all his crankishness, is the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be: Deeply principled, impressively consistent, a foe of big government in nearly all its forms (the Department of Defense very much included), a man of ideas rather than of party.

Gingrich, on the other hand, is the kind of conservative that liberals believe most Tea Partiers to be – not a genuine “don’t tread on me” libertarian, but a partisan Republican whose unstinting support for George W. Bush’s deficit spending morphed into hand-wringing horror of “socialism” once a Democrat captured the Oval Office.

Paul’s rigid consistency can be a vice, and Gingrich’s flexibility a virtue. (Its disastrous ending notwithstanding, his term as speaker included genuine accomplishments that wouldn’t have been possible without a willingness to deal and compromise.) But for a movement that conceives of itself as a rebuke to the grubby compromises of Washington business-as-usual, the Texan congressman should represent a beau ideal, and the former speaker of the house should represent the enemy…

So Iowa Tea Partiers face a choice. If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.” If Paul wins the caucuses, on the other hand, the movement will keep its honor – but also deliver the Republican nomination gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.

Douthat makes the same mistake that many liberals have made when discussing the Tea Party movement, the mistake of thinking that there is a single coherent ideology within that large group. There isn’t, unless you think “we hate Obama” is a coherent ideology (and it isn’t). The Tea Party has always been split between social conservatives and more libertarian-minded conservatives. This was clear early on when a survey found that about 25% of the Tea Party folks thought Ron Paul was the obvious leader to follow and about 25% thought it was Sarah Palin instead — but over 50% of them said they wouldn’t vote for either of those people for president. The one thing that has always united them is fear and loathing of Barack Obama.

Comments

  1. rikitiki says

    The ‘soul’ of the Tea Party? C’mon, the Tea Party has no soul. Unless some minor percentage of the enjoy the music of James Brown, of course. Then again, lack of a soul in the Tea Party is consistent with their lack of a brain.

  2. says

    But I think Douthat does understand the issue: The Tea Party’s conceit, or at least that of the people who want to use it for their own ends, has always been that it’s some sort of independent, libertarian-ish, anti-establishment, non-partisan movement. Reality has shown the exact opposite. It’s a hyper-Republican, Obama-hating, Fox News-controlled, “get the government’s hands off my Medicare” movement. The evidence suggests that, aside from opportunistic rhetoric, the average Tea Partier doesn’t have any libertarian leanings at all. And that’s why they’re perfectly fine with Gingrich. Meanwhile, Fox News, whose every word they hang on, has declared war against Ron Paul.

    I’ve got just one thing to say to Douthat: I told you so.

  3. Michael Heath says

    Area Man:

    the average Tea Partier doesn’t have any libertarian leanings at all. And that’s why they’re perfectly fine with Gingrich.

    I’m not so sure Tea Partiers are ‘perfectly fine with Gingrich.’ Let’s recall these people have no memory of the past which creates two potential paths: 1) Republican criticism of Gingrich’s record and behavior turn-them off, or 2) Gingrich’s current demagoguery resonates.

    I think the most likely path which best resonates will have nothing to do with the merits of these competing arguments but instead revolve around who they perceive will get anointed, with the possible exceptions of Romney though even that is in play as time progresses. Even Huntsman has a shot at their support if he does well in New Hampshire. [I get that Ross Douthat is focusing strictly on Iowa, which is not all that interesting since Iowa is not a predictor of who will win the GOPnomination.]

    Gingrich’s “interview” yesterday on Face the Nation was a sight to behold. He literally advocated order federal law enforcement officers to arrest a federal judge who did a ruling he didn’t like if the judge wouldn’t show up for a Congressional hearing to defend his ruling. The judge ruled a school could not have some sort of ceremony which included a prayer where a circuit court has already overturned his ruling which the “journalist” Bob Schieffer framed prior to Gingrich’s advocacy.

  4. says

    I think the present collapse of Gingrich’s support under withering attacks from the Republican establishment shows that the Tea Party isn’t as divorced from the Republican establishment as they believe themselves to be. Of course, Gingrich himself is thoroughly part of said establishment so they were screwed either way.

    But now that Gingrich has proven himself unable to withstand the all out assault on his record, then once Iowa and possibly New Hampshire are out of the way, I expect that the base will fall into line and nominate Mittens Romney as their standard bearer for 2012, unless a new candidate throws their hat into the ring.

    Ron Paul could well take Iowa, and perhaps even New Hampshire (a long shot) but he’s not going to win in the long run. A couple of commentators have pointed out that the Republican establishment had better be wary of going after Paul with the same ferocity they have with Gingrich, since a third party Ron Paul candidacy would likely scupper any chance that the Republicans have of beating Obama.

  5. slc1 says

    Re Michael Heath @ #6

    Gingrich’s totally off the wall jeremiads against the judicial branch of government is the most irresponsible demagoguery I have ever heard. Talk about pandering to the lowest common denominator! I find it hard to believe that even an asshole like Gingrich really believes the type of crap he has been spewing out of late, consisting of advocating the arrest of federal judges, abolishing judicial districts, etc.

  6. says

    The Tea Party’s conceit, or at least that of the people who want to use it for their own ends, has always been that it’s some sort of independent, libertarian-ish, anti-establishment, non-partisan movement. Reality has shown the exact opposite. It’s a hyper-Republican, Obama-hating, Fox News-controlled, “get the government’s hands off my Medicare” movement.

    That’s exactly what the whole “libertraian” movement has been since 1980. Different sock-puppets, same hand up both asses, same backward reich-wing agenda.

    The evidence suggests that, aside from opportunistic rhetoric, the average Tea Partier doesn’t have any libertarian leanings at all.

    Neither does Ron Paul. Why do you think he’s stayed with the Republican Party for so long?

  7. says

    A couple of commentators have pointed out that the Republican establishment had better be wary of going after Paul with the same ferocity they have with Gingrich, since a third party Ron Paul candidacy would likely scupper any chance that the Republicans have of beating Obama.

    Once the POG have rejected Ron Paul, do you really think a significant number of right-wingers would vote for him as a third-party candidate? Don’t make me laugh. The right-wing authoritarians know their own.

    I think third-party run by Paul would help the Republicans, by attracting less committed independent voters who are disillusined by Obama, want to cast a “protest vote,” and don’t really know, or care, what kind of sleazy pretender Ron Paul really is. The 2012 election will be a closer race than 2008, and Ron Paul will serve the same purpose for the Republicans as Nader did in 2000.

  8. d cwilson says

    If the tea partiers truly were the principled, anti-Washington establishment types that they claim to be, all of the current attacks on Gingrich by establishment conservatives should actually help his standing among them.

    We’ll see. Personally, I think we’re going to see the “Draft Jeb Bush and/or Christ Christie” movements take steam real soon.

  9. D. C. Sessions says

    slc1@8:

    Have a look at what’s going on in Hungary right now and you’ll see where Gingrich gets these ideas.

  10. says

    d cwilson: I see Jeb Bush as a real possibility. If none of the curent candidates come to the POG convention with a clear majority — or any real credibility — then the convention would be deadlocked. Then Jeb could ride in on a white horse, hear his fellow Republicans plead for a leader, and boldly give them what they want. He’s clearly smarter than any of the other major candidates, and he’d take the nomination with almost no public scrutiny; so practically NONE of the sensible criticism that’s been levelled at the other Republicans would stick to him. He could easily win, with both “moderate” and teatard support.

  11. The Christian Cynic says

    I find the notion that Jeb Bush will sweep in and claim the GOP nomination absolutely laughable. A very similar thing was said about the Democratic nomination in 2008 – that the in-fighting between Obama and Hillary supporters would lead to an Al Gore candidacy – and I found it just as delusional. I think that a dark horse candidate coming into the race at this point is virtually inconceivable, and even if it weren’t, nobody with the last name Bush is going to rise to any kind of power any time soon even within Republican circles – it would absolutely decimate the independent vote. In other words, if it happens, I’ll eat my hat, but I somehow doubt that I’ll need to become accustomed to such a diet anytime soon.

  12. slc1 says

    Re d cwilson @ #11

    One only has to be reminded of how the born agains in Florida castigated Bush for not sending in the Florida National Guard to “rescue” Terri Schiavo from the clutches of the dastardly Judge Greer to know that they will never go for him.

  13. d cwilson says

    Just to be clear:

    I don’t think Jeb Bush will actually win the nomination. I just think the people who do believe it will start to get really active very soon.

  14. says

    Jeb? Cristie? Maybe 2016. Nobody who is smart wants the GOP nomination. “Blame Obama” aside, only an idiot would want to inherit the economy they’ve spent the last few years smothering. This economy isn’t Carter’s Malaise, 2012 isn’t 1980 and nobody is Reagan.

  15. Michael Heath says

    I’m somewhat confident both political parties have rules to protect delegate votes achieved in the primaries. Those rules would make it extremely difficult for a Johnny come-lately to win the nomination without having participated in the primaries and having competed. Instead a brokered convention would most likely revolve around the candidates with the most delegates won in the primaries swinging the bulk of super-delegates to their side in spite of not having the most regular delegates.

  16. dingojack says

    Ed, you wrote: “[Many liberals make] the mistake of thinking that there is a single coherent ideology within that large group. There isn’t, unless you think ‘we hate Obama’ is a coherent ideology (and it isn’t)… The one thing that has always united them is fear and loathing of Barack Obama“.

    So ‘we hate Obama’ isn’t a coherent ideology, except in that it unites Teabaggers. :)

    Dingo

  17. says

    Presumably, during a brokered convention, delegates are free to vote for whomever they want after the first round of voting fails to produce a majority. The idea is that 3rd and 4th place candidates engage in horse-trading to hand their delegates off to one of the top two vote getters. In such a scenario, it’s possible for a majority of delegates to switch to an outsider like Jeb Bush.

    But the very idea is insane. A guy who didn’t participate in the primaries at all, and hasn’t even run a campaign, is going to win the support of over half the other candidates’ delegates? That’s too anti-democratic even for the Republicans.

  18. says

    Have you noticed all the voter-suppression measures Republicans are pushing at the state level? NOTHING is too anti-democratic for them.

    Besides, a national convention choosing someone out of the blue when its delegates can’t reach a concensus otherwise isn’t exactly “anti-democratic.” It is, in fact, an important part of what political parties are supposed to do.

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