Newt’s Victory is Tea Party’s Loss
Sen. Rand Paul has said that Newt Gingrich “goes against everything the tea party stands for.” This might be an understatement.
The tea party originally stood for one simple but important message: Stop spending. For tea partiers, the “Troubled Asset Relief Program” or TARP was the litmus test and any Republican who supported it faced the wrath of the movement. Explained Utah tea party leader David Kirkham in May 2010:
I think it’s a matter of fiscal or financial responsibility … What the tea party people are about and the vote for TARP and the vote for the bailout was, in our opinion, pretty fiscally irresponsible, and that’s what’s raised the ire of most people.
At the time, Kirkham’s group was working to unseat Republican Senator Bob Bennett, who had voted for TARP. Kirkham’s efforts would eventually help elect tea party champion Sen. Mike Lee. When asked if the TARP-supporting incumbent deserved to lose his seat over just one vote, Kirkham replied:
That one vote was pretty toxic. That one vote affected a lot of things, changed the rules of the game. President Bush said that where we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market, and fundamentally, we just don’t agree. There’s just no way.
Tea Party support for Newt Gingrich in South Carolina and elsewhere marks a new point — a low point — for the movement. When John McCain suspended his campaign in 2008 to go to Washington to support TARP, Gingrich said, “This is the greatest single act of responsibility ever taken by a presidential candidate and rivals President Eisenhower saying ‘I will go to Korea.’”
The tea party believed that TARP represented Washington at its most irresponsible. Gingrich believed the exact opposite. In fact, if you were to make a list of every big-government issue most tea partiers stand against — bank bailouts, healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade, you name it — Gingrich has been, or still is, on the opposite side.
Grassroots conservatives want a Republican nominee who will fight President Obama on issues like bailouts and healthcare mandates. Saturday, grassroots conservatives in South Carolina championed a Republican presidential candidate who has agreed with Obama on both of those issues. In the debates, Obama could even say that Newt was for forcing Americans to purchase health insurance before he was against it. And the president will be right.
When Gingrich called McCain’s support for TARP “the greatest single act of responsibility ever taken by a presidential candidate,” this was classic Newt-speak — Gingrich is a great talker and often speaks in bold and indeed “grandiose” terms. Newt sounds good. People like that. They respond to it. It inspires them. Ask Barack Obama.
But the tea party was supposed to be better than this. The tea party was supposed to stand for something more substantive.