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Romney’s Tea Party Outreach Splits Conservative Groups

In May, Jon Ward revealed just how much effort the conservative group FreedomWorks was going to put into derailing a possible Mitt Romney nomination. The group has followed through, announcing they will withdraw their support from a Tea Party event at which Romney will speak, and will instead protest the event.

“We have to defend our brand against poseurs,” said Brendan Steinhauser, one of the lead organizers for the group. The plan to protest Romney’s Sunday speech is certainly an example of the group making good on its word to oppose Romney’s candidacy. But there might be another, just as consistent, reason: to torpedo a possible–though not probable–endorsement of Romney by Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint. Politico reports Romney will now attend an event this weekend hosted by the South Carolina senator after first saying he would pass:

Romney had originally indicated he would not attend the DeMint event, but he changed his mind after having a conversation with the influential conservative.

“He’s a good friend, and we wanted to do what we could to make it work,” said senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom of the campaign’s change of heart. DeMint was a key Romney backer in 2008 but is holding out this election cycle. Romney’s reconsideration suggests that the South Carolinian hasn’t ruled out endorsing the former governor again.

Though Romney did win that endorsement last time, he was running against two candidates–John McCain and Mike Huckabee–with equally spotty conservative records. Among those three, Romney was–then as now–considered the most potent general election candidate (though Rick Perry is starting to poll close to Obama now as well). In addition, the conservative grassroots groups are better organized and more influential than they were last time around. They know they must flex their muscles where they can if they are going to earn the deference they seek from the candidates.

In 2008, many conservatives vociferously opposed McCain’s nomination but were unable to stop it. A Romney nomination this time–especially if coupled with an endorsement from DeMint–would be a blow to groups like FreedomWorks. There is also the danger, however, of intramural rivalry diluting the influence of such organizations. Romney may not feel all that unwelcome if Tea Party groups and Jim DeMint are still sending him invitations, regardless of who chooses to protest those events.



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