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What Last Night Says About the Tea Party

Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.

“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”

The Tea Party is an important force within the conservative movement, but it needs to get a handle on its own limitations. Barack Obama didn’t win last night because Romney was too “establishment” and conservatives rebelled. Obama won because of high turnout among his base groups (Democrats, black and Hispanic voters, young people), and even though he lost support with independents, he was able to hold onto enough of them to close the gap.

Grassroots enthusiasm alone isn’t a substitute for a strong turnout operation. And even with a strong turnout operation, Republicans would have still needed to pick up more independent voters.

The point is, the Tea Party-rightblogger-grassroots on its own can’t trump Obama’s cobbled-together coalition. There were always going to be some independents who stuck with Obama because they strongly supported him in 2008 and wanted to give him another chance. But he was also able to hang on to wavering independents for a couple of reasons. One was freebies: birth control, auto bailouts and the assortment of giveaways under Obamacare. The other was fearmongering: convincing voters that abortion would be banned, the social safety net would be destroyed, and that Mitt Romney was a cartoon villain who couldn’t be trusted.

Republicans aren’t going to break up Obama’s coalition by choosing a Newt Gingrich or a Michele Bachmann. That would be a recipe for a spectacular defeat. The Tea Party is an element of a winning GOP coalition, but needs to realize that it’s just one.


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