The Tea Party Slaps Down Mitt Romney in South Carolina

By: January 21, 2012

Newt Gingrich’s stunning 40% to 28% victory over Mitt Romney in today’s South Carolina Republican Presidential primary is more a Tea Party slap down of Romney than a complete embrace of Gingrich.  The victory was so clear that Fox News called the race seconds after the polls closed at 7 pm eastern time. I’ve written previously in this space that the two GOP frontrunners are both more Big Government Hamiltonians than limited government, tea party aligned Jeffersonians.

While both candidates are far superior to the Constitution-busting collectivist currently occupying the White House, it would be highly inaccurate to call either candidate a consistent supporter of the Tea Party’s three core values of constitutionally limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility.

Wasn’t that Newt Gingrich just the other day bashing Romney for his years operating as a free market capitalist at Bain Capital? Isn’t he the same guy who took over $1.5 million in fees from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, endorsed RINO Dede Scozzafava in NY-23, sat on the global warming couch with Nancy Pelosi, clasped arms with Al Sharpton to promote more expansive Department of Education programs, and enthusiastically supported President Bush’s budget breaking pharmaceutical benefits give-away in 2003?

And isn’t that the same Mitt Romney who introduced RomneyCare to Massachusetts, the model for Obamacare, supported the TARP bailout, the Stimulus Package, at one time supported cap and trade like policies, and counts John McCain among his supporters?

But, as the old pros often say, “politics ain’t bean bag,” and modern political candidates are neither Jesus nor John Locke. They are ambitious men with personal agendas who can be persuaded to do the right thing by forceful political pressure applied at the right place and time by savvy conservatives.

What distinguishes Gingrich from Romney is less policy than style and tactics.

Stylistically, he loves to attack, and, as his decimation of John King in Thursday’s debate illustrates, he’s quite good at it.

Tactically, he’s figured out something that the buttoned down Romney, practitioner of the corporate model of hierarchical decision making, has missed entirely.

The energy and passion in Republican politics today is found in abundant supply–and almost exclusively–in the Tea Party movement. While Romney has dismissed and ignored it entirely, Gingrich has cultivated and successfully used it. To be fair, the movement itself has used Gingrich to its advantage, as it did in March, 2009 when he and his American Solutions group were invited by three small online conservative activist groups to co-sponsor what became the hugely successful Tax Day Tea Party rallies of 1 million Americans held in 900 cities on April 15, 2009.

But Gingrich is not a champion of the Tea Party’s core values. He is, like most politicians, the champion of his own ambitions. He’s spent his career crafting political coalitions, and he sees the Tea Party movement as yet another interest group to be manipulated to support his personal goal of securing the most powerful job in the world.

While Romney’s campaign staff ignored endorsements from a handful of local tea party groups, as well as offers to campaign for him in South Carolina, the Gingrich campaign has made a concerted effort to engage with and obtain support from South Carolina tea party leaders. Allen Olsen, the former leader of the Columbia, South Carolina Tea Party, was an early Gingrich supporter in that state, for instance. Joe Dugan, leader of a tea party group in Myrtle Beach, was another Gingrich backer who helped get-out-the-vote today.

Most of the credit for Gingrich’s South Carolina success must go to young Adam Waldeck, a Gingrich campaign staffer who has loyally followed Gingrich from American Solutions, where he was that group’s “point man” dealing with the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition that sponsored the 2009 Tax Day Tea Party, to South Carolina, where he’s played a key role in nurturing and developing local tea party relationships and endorsements. Another tip of the hat goes to Kellen Giuda, the Tea Party Coalitions Director in the Gingrich campaign who first persuaded Gingrich to be one of the featured speakers at the New York City Tax Day Tea Party event back in April of 2009.

These efforts to court the Tea Party movement paid off in a very big way today in South Carolina. Polls showed that by a margin of 46% to 21%, those primary voters who call themselves supporters of the Tea Party voted for Gingrich over Romney. This provided him with his margin of victory.

Now that it looks like we are set for an extended race to earn the Republican nomination, it’s time for the Tea Party to communicate clearly what it wants from all four of the remaining candidates. We’ll work to help get-out-the-vote in both the primaries and the general election, but all four of these candidates need to earn our support by not only engaging with us and acknowledging our influence, but more importantly by modifying their policies to consistently align with our three core values

For the Romney campaign this means it’s time to start making those phone calls to us. We don’t want to talk to third level staffers. We want to talk candidly and directly with Mitt Romney himself. If you’re not prepared to do that, don’t bother calling.

Because, frankly, our phone lines are already burning up with calls from Newt Gingrich and his campaign team.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, co-founder of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and co-organizer of Election Day Tea Party 2012. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

11 Responses to The Tea Party Slaps Down Mitt Romney in South Carolina

  1. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » SOUTH CAROLINA: Why Romney Lost. Plus: Gingrich wins majority among married women. UPDATE: …

  2. Keating Willcox says:

    Romney has made several faux pas. While he claims to repeal Obamacare on day 1, experts have said that it will take legislation and determination to rid us of Obamacare. When Romney says he wants to remove what is bad and keep what is good in Obamacare, the message I get is that he is planning to modify it, not remove it. And Romney has alluded to bringing a VAT. For these two reasons alone, please stick with Mitt.

    Romney is also sympathetic to cap and trade. I am stunned he has gotten this far.

  3. Jim,MtnViewCA,USA says:

    Is it a coincidence that Sarah Palin said she would vote for Newt if she were a SC voter, in order to keep the contest alive?
    I think not.

  4. Stephen says:

    Don’t forget congressional and all the state races. These are every bit as important, and perhaps more so, than the presidential contest. Presidents come and go but remember this: control 38 statehouses and you can amend the Constitution.

    • Bob says:

      “Presidents come and go but remember this: control 38 statehouses and you can amend the Constitution.”

      As long as you get a two-thirds majority to pass the amendment in each house of Congress. Otherwise, the proposed amendment never gets to the states.

  5. Scott D says:

    This is the most correct evaluation of today’s results I have read. I am a Conservative, independent voter in SC. I chose neither candidate here, but I can tell you from personal knowledge, this was a Tea Party victory for Newt. Tea Partiers in SC on the main distrust Mitt and hold Newt at arms length, but see him as the only candidate willing and able to take the fight to the Obama/media coalition.

  6. Jacksonian Libertarian says:

    “Actions speak louder than words”
    The political achievements of Romney and Obama are identical
    Romney raised taxes=Obama wants to raise taxes
    Romney increased spending=Obama really increased spending
    Romney is a 1 term Governor=Obama will be a 1 term President
    Gingrich on the other hand, took over congress, balanced the budget, reformed welfare, and cut taxes, they are exact opposites.
    “Actions speak louder than words”
    Gingrich’s actions are conservative, Romney’s are not he is a conservative of convenience and cannot be trusted.

  7. b2martin says:

    I have been a Tea Party supporter and agree with this commentary and these comments. I believe that Newt is the best candidate that the Tea Party has at this time. Based on past performance, Newt has the knowledge and methods to achieve the changes we need. The negative attacks from the Chicago machine are going to be unprecedented during the general election. Mitt will never be able to stand up to them.

    My dream ticket would be a Newt/Rand Paul ticket. A fiscal libertarian voice in Newt’s ear would remind him “who brung him to the dance”.

  8. “but all four of these candidates need to earn our support by not only engaging with us and acknowledging our influence, but more importantly by modifying their policies to consistently align with our three core values.”

    RIGHT! — Gingrich, Romney & Santorum must modify (pander) to the Tea Party’s core values of “constitutionally limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility”.

    by contrast, Ron Paul has been exemplifying these core values in his philosophy, actions, and voting record for over twenty years as a Congressman.

    the Tea Party might wish to also consider INTEGRITY as a “runner up” value in which to consider in selecting its choice for the next US President! 😎

  9. richard40 says:

    I am constantly perplexed why Romney does not pay more attention to the Tea Party. Romneys strong support of free market capitalism, and the opportunity society, and his recent condemnation of crony capitalism, should allow him to get some Tea Party support, but he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to get them. A little outreach and courting could help him a lot there. Romney will never get the socons, either Santorum or Newt has them locked up. But Romney, as a real free market capitalist, should be able to win Tea Party voters, expecially since as this article states, none of the alternatives, other than the slightly wacky Paul, consistently supports Tea Party values either.

  10. Pingback: Your Questions About Arrests At Tea Party | Tampa Bail Bonds

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