Mitt Romney seems to be no one's ideal Republican candidate for President of the United States, but many observers remain convinced that the GOP nomination is his to lose in a field of perceived small-timers, in spite of the presumed desire among "base" primary voters for a more hard-charging conservative. As the Christian Science Monitor reports this week, some Republicans are worried about whether Romney can inspire the turnout they'd need to unseat President Obama or, in the worst case scenario, provoke a rightward bolt of dissatisfied Tea Partiers.
Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks and an advisor to Tea Party groups, would clearly rather not have Romney as the Republican nominee, but he also doesn't want anyone to blame Tea Parties should Nominee Romney lose to Obama. He is adamantly opposed to Tea Partiers declaring independence from the GOP. "I'm not predicting a third party," he tells Monitor reporter Linda Feldman, "and I would never support that, because I think it's a bad strategy." He warns, however, that Republicans could fall victim to passive resistance from TPs if they "nominate a candidate who's not exciting or even acceptable to fiscal conservatives who do so much of the work." Like many Tea Partiers, Kibbe contends that Senator McCain lost the 2008 election, in spite of Sarah Palin, because he was insufficiently conservative to inspire sufficient conservative turnout. The same fate, he hints, could befall Romney -- "If the Republican Party fails to produce a candidate that meets basic standards, that's always a problem."
Kibbe makes what he considers an important distinction. The risk involved in any right-wing resistance to Romney (or to any perceived moderate nominee) is that Tea Partiers could be blamed by the GOP mainstream for re-electing Obama. According to Kibbe's logic, the TPs would be guilty as charged if they formed a third party and actively sought to take votes from the Republicans. Former RNC chairman Haley Barbour seconds this viewpoint. He tells Feldman: "The tea party voters have proven they recognize that they shouldn't be a third party, because it would insure Obama's reelection." But if TPs simply stayed home, Kibbe implies, an Obama victory would be the GOP's fault -- as it was in 2008-- for nominating an uninspiring candidate. But what about the TPs' patriotic obligation to offer a better choice to the general public for the country's sake? Kibbe's implicit threat to stay home from the Presidential vote, welcome as it may be to Democrats, should strike Tea Partiers themselves as an abdication of responsibility for the future of the republic. Many of them probably recognize this already, since the Monitor reports that "some tea party supporters already back Romney" on the simple basis of his assumed electability. This is the usual nose-holding lesser-evilism at work among people who'll take anyone in place of the current President. But weren't they supposed to have more and better choices thanks to the Tea Party uprising? Instead, in the event of a Romney nomination, the movement offers its members a stark choice between complacency and apathy.
Some will choose apathy, with a side order of spite. According to Feldman, a Montana TP recently told an RNC committeeman that "if we don't get someone who's a real [conservative], I'd rather have Obama and let everything go down in flames." From a movement that supposedly embodies the country's can-do spirit, you couldn't ask for a more pathetic expression of angry impotence, or a more complete failure of political imagination.