The tea party movement is the driving force in American politics.
In every aspect of our politics — both in campaigns, in state Houses and up on Capitol Hill — the tea party movement is reshaping the debate on debt and the role and scope of government.
This grass-roots, bottom-up movement completely dominated the 2010 GOP senatorial, congressional, and gubernatorial primaries — and won almost every contested GOP race. Even long-time conservative senators were defeated in GOP conventions and primaries because, in the eyes of the tea party, they were “too liberal” on fiscal issues.
But not every tea party GOP nominee won their general election races. The two most notable losers of races that a better GOP candidate would probably have won were Delaware (Christine O’Donnell) and Nevada (Sharron Angle).
With the power of the tea party movement in mind, the best way to analyze the 2012 GOP presidential field is through a tea party prism. No candidate is going to be the 2012 GOP nominee unless the tea party embraces him or her. Thus, we can begin to eliminate candidates who are unacceptable to the tea party movement:
- Mitt Romney has gone out of his way to distance himself from tea partyers; his Romneycare health bill dooms him.
- Haley Barbour was a two-decade long inside-the-Beltway lobbyist; the tea party abhors lobbyists, insiders, and those who have lived off the political system.
- Jon Huntsman — who, you ask? — can forget it. Known in Utah as a “liberal” Republican who then served as Obama’s ambassador to China cannot win the support of the tea party.
- Newt Gingrich? Too self-promoting, too many marriages, too mouthy, and he has no credibility.
- Donald Trump? While many agree with his China rhetoric, he is un-electable. He cannot survive serious scrutiny. But, before that happens, he does excite tea partyers with his “outsider” image — it is indeed just an image. Trump has played footsie with long-time Democrat incumbents and funded their campaigns. The tea party doesn’t know that yet, but they will. And they will not embrace him.
- Forget the other also-rans, too, like Rick Santorum and Rudy Giuliani. No one digs them at all. They are yesterday’s news.
OK, so who can be the darling of the tea party movement, but not necessarily someone who can win the general election?
- Today, they are focusing on Michelle Bachmann, who senses that there is no one else right now who excites the tea party. They have loved Sarah Palin — and still might if she runs. But her recent absence from the scene has opened up the way for others. Bachmann is just Palin 2.0.
- Tim Pawlenty is trying to be all things to all people. He’s trying to have one foot in the GOP establishment camp and the other foot in the tea party camp. The problem is that when you try to be all things to all people, you often end up being nothing to anybody. Pawlenty is also boring, which is a fatal problem in the era of TV in politics.
- Gov. Mitch Daniels is dithering about running. He has a tea party-friendly economic story to tell, but he appears to lack the fire in the belly for this 2012 race.
- Huckabee is still very much alive as a candidate — although rumors abound that he is not going to run because he’s making a ton of dough on TV — and he appeals to Evangelicals and to some tea partyers, but not all. He is the front-runner right now, but a weak one.
- Ron Paul is more of a libertarian than a tea partyer, but he does have strong, devoted supporters. He is a good man, but he will not be the GOP nominee or the tea party candidate.
Conclusion: the tea party will select the 2012 GOP nominee. That is not to say that candidate will win the White House. For example, Michele Bachmann could be the Christine O’Donnell/Sharron Angle of the 2012 GOP presidential race: she might win the support of the tea party movement, but she is un-electable in the general election because independent voters will not vote for her.
We on the right have a big problem: we have no one running (yet) who can win both the support of the tea party and can then win over the crucial independent voters in the fall of 2012.
Obama can be beaten, but only if the exact right kind of candidate runs against him.
So we have to keep looking for just such a candidate.
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