Too many people continue to give the Tea Party too much credit.
Yuval Levin, writing in National Review, is downright effusive:
[T]he Tea Party has been very unusual for an American populist movement. It has not been focused on soaking the rich, as left-wing populists always have been. It has not even been primarily focused on reducing the tax burden on the middle class, as right-wing populists usually are. Rather, the Tea Party has focused on restraining government. It originated in outrage about federal bailouts, and has directed its energies toward pulling back the cost and reach of the state. It has asked for fewer government giveaways, not more. It has even given voice to a tight-money populism, criticizing the Federal Reserve for inviting inflation—a far cry from populists of old. And the Tea Party has also been intensely focused on recovering the U.S. Constitution, and especially its limits on government power (and therefore on the public's power)—another very unusual goal for a populist movement.
So why, asks Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek, is the movement throwing in with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich?
Odd as it seems, a Republican primary that began as a contest to accommodate these activists—bending mainstream figures like Tim Pawlenty into painful contortions—now seems likely to end as a desperate bid to find someone—anyone!—who isn't Romney. If the search ends with Gingrich, it will be a measure of just how much the Tea Party has deceived itself.
This seeming contradiction—principled limited-government grassroots activists falling for self-aggrandizing, unreliably conservative Washington insider—is really not a contradiction at all.
Since it must be said again, I'll say it again: The Tea Party is not primarily a movement devoted to fiscal restraint. It—or what's left of it—is a revanchist religio-cultural backlash. Its animating ethos can be summed up as, "They're taking from me and giving to them."
Or, as a famous left-wing ideologue once put it, "Dude, where's my country?"
The American Spectator's W. James Antle, in his own piece about the pitfalls of entitlement reform, reluctantly reproduced this Tea Partyer quote: "I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security."
Or: I want big government for myself, and small government for them.
Which brings us back to Gingrich. The former speaker has unabashedly couched his opposition to Obama in the kind of aggressive language that the Tea Party loves: "Saul Alinksy radical," "secular-socialist machine."
This is what they want—not entitlement reform, not limited government, not "constitutionalism"—and Gingrich is giving it to them.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (for the most part) isn't comfortable going there. Giving credit where it's due, there are things he won't say to get elected.
- See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney
- Check out political cartoons about the 2012 Republican primaries.
- Read the U.S. News debate on whether Gingrich can beat Obama.