The tea party movement, which exploded on the political scene not long after Barack Obama’s inauguration as president and was a huge force in changing the face of the US Congress two years later, is a strong presence at the Republican convention.
Tea party values are reflected in the party platform, and tea party favorites are included among the major speakers – including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, slated to give the keynote address Tuesday night; Ted Cruz, favored to win the US Senate race in Texas; and Sen. Rand Paul, a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. Others include US Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
US Senate candidate and rancher Deb Fischer from Nebraska, a state senator who calls herself a “citizen-legislator,” got her three minutes in the spotlight Tuesday when she was one of the early afternoon speakers, one of several lesser-known tea party favorites sprinkled throughout the three-day convention’s program.
For the most part, tea partyers now support Mr. Romney, but many are even more enthusiastic about Mr. Ryan – particularly for the budget plan he crafted in the US House of Representatives, which challenged some of the traditional thinking about government spending among his party’s leadership.
Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer was asked this week whether she trusted Romney.
“Um, yeah,” she told CNN. “I think it showed he understands the problems we’re facing when he picked Paul Ryan as his VP. That was very courageous. It was risky, it was courageous, and I actually think it was a brilliant move.”
Others in the movement are more wholehearted in their support of Romney, or at least they accepted the inevitable once the other tea party darlings – Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann – fell away, climbing onboard the Romney bandwagon in order to maintain their influence.
FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe says, “The Republicans have taken an important and significant step toward once again carrying the mantle of true fiscal conservatism.” He was speaking of the party platform approved here in Tampa, Fla., but its fiscal essence is much of the Ryan plan – which has largely become the Romney-Ryan plan. FreedomWorks is a conservative nonprofit that’s provided major funding for tea party activities.
In a nod to Republican libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas as well as to the tea party, the platform calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve, a commission to study a return to the gold standard, and a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds congressional majority to raise taxes.
It’s true, as House Speaker John Boehner said Monday at a Monitor-hosted press lunch, that hardly anybody ever reads party platforms. Still, the symbolism of moving in a tea party-demanded direction could not be missed.
“They have made a bold commitment to a large, motivated voting group to protect individual liberty and to lead our nation into recovery with sound economic policy,” Mr. Kibbe wrote this week in a Fox News online column. “Now it’s time to make sure they deliver” – a hint that tea partyers intend to keep a sharp eye on any potential Romney administration.
Although the Obama camp uses the tea party label as a campaign weapon, Romney advisers now say they’re happy to assume it.
“He actually is the tea party movement,” senior Romney adviser Ron Kaufman said Tuesday morning at a POLITICO breakfast. “He truly is the outside candidate not the inside candidate.”
Romney won twice as many tea party votes as any of his GOP rivals for primary and caucus votes, Mr. Kaufman said, and he pointed out that the candidate has “never” spent time serving in Washington – a badge of honor for tea partyers, even though Romney tried hard to win a US Senate seat, crafted a government health-care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts, and has spent the last eight years running for the White House.
The tea party movement never was totally cohesive, and early in the week in Tampa there were some signs of dissent – particularly regarding new party rules that critics say would squelch internal dissent.
“This is a fundamental change in the way the Republican Party works,” warns Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips in his blog. “These are changes that are designed to minimize the role grass-roots groups have in the Republican Party and let the party really be controlled (even more than it currently is) by the Party Establishment.”
Still, the Tea Party Express – one of the movement’s major organizations – ticks off the ways Romney has become their man: He has consistently been leading or in the top three of member polls; primary election exit polls showed him leading among tea partyers in all states except Ohio; Ryan and Senator Rubio were the top two choices for vice president.
“The tea party success is in full display this week at the GOP Convention here in Tampa,” crows Tea Party Express chief strategist Sal Russo. “That means this convention is led by a tea party presidential nominee, a tea party vice-presidential nominee, a speakers list overflowing with fresh tea party faces, and a tea party platform – I would call that a grand slam."