Politics & Policy

Should the Tea Party Think Third Party?

Organizations are divided as to whether they should automatically support a Republican in 2012.

‘Whoever the Republican nominee is will have to have the support of the tea-party movement,” Amy Kremer, co-chairman of Tea Party Express, told Fox News on Sunday. “There is no way that we are going to support a third-party candidate. It would split the vote and it would guarantee reelection for Obama.”

Au contraire, say rival tea-party groups.

“A pledge of allegiance to the Republican party, or any other party, violates what the tea-party movement is all about,” says Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, in a statement.

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, meanwhile, objects to Kremer’s assertion that the Tea Party would support the GOP nominee even if he were Mitt Romney: “We’ve heard little support for Romney in the movement as we interact daily with local coordinators and activists. We believe it’s premature to say whether anyone would support him if he were the nominee.”

But would Tea Party Patriots, which claims over 3,300 affiliated groups, actually oppose Romney if he procured the nomination?

“I can’t say that,” Meckler tells National Review Online. “We’re a grassroots organization. What we would do is whatever our members would want us to do.”

“We put out this statement because we received so much outrage on our Facebook page and in e-mails,” Meckler explains. “We act as a reflection of the grassroots.”

When asked if tea partiers are talking about a third-party candidacy in case an unacceptable nominee secures the GOP nomination, Meckler responds, “People aren’t really talking about that. They expect that there is going to be somebody that they admire as the nominee.”

Still, Meckler admits, “The least popular candidate among the grassroots is Mitt Romney.” Yes, the health-insurance mandate is his heaviest albatross, but his recent comment on global warming is also weighing him down. “He really distanced himself from the tea-party movement — almost in a final blow — by making the statements he made about global warming,” Meckler says. “The response I heard over and over was ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks, agrees: “From our perspective, he is bad on climate change — or global warming, whatever he wants to call it — and ethanol subsidies.”

Steinhauser points to Romney’s endorsement of former Utah senator Bob Bennett over the eventual victor, Mike Lee, in last year’s Republican primary as a source of discontent. He remembers how several tea partiers turned their backs on Romney at his endorsement event.

“Romney’s really stepped in it with the tea-party groups,” he concludes.

FreedomWorks, Steinhauser contends, is looking for “the most conservative candidate that can win.” As for the current crop of candidates, he muses, “I don’t think it’s Newt Gingrich. I don’t know at this point if it’s Mitt Romney — probably not. We worked very closely with Michele Bachmann on the health-care battle. We’ve worked with Herman Cain on tea-party rallies. Ron Paul and Gary Johnson have all spoken at various events we’ve organized. We like what Tim Pawlenty is saying on ethanol subsidies, and his economic plan looks solid.”

But would FreedomWorks oppose an unacceptable candidate such as, say, Romney?

“All options are on the table,” Steinhauser warns. “I can’t speak on behalf of the tea-party movement, but tea partiers will not blindly support someone just because he has an ‘R’ next to his name.”

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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