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February 07, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Tea Party Pundit

I'm a Tea Party fan. I like the focus on fiscal issues that was absent from the last half of the Bush years. I like the idea of folks stirring from their apathy to get involved in stopping President Obama's runaway liberalism. It's a nice story. That feature in particular, the claim that they came out of the ranks of the formerly politically disengaged, has caught the imagination of many conservative pundits.

Professor Jacobson of Legal Insurrection is in that camp. He worries that the Tea Partiers will return to their political inactivity if Mitt Romney wins the nomination. Jacobson has some numbers about the Tea Partiers' origins and he's riffing on a column from GuestBlogger Ben Domenech, so click over and read it. I'll wait.

Okay, you back?

The problem is that this romantic idea that the Tea Partiers bestirred themselves from political disengagement to challenge fiscal insanity isn't very true even according to the numbers Jacobson cites. A majority, a slim one, were already at least "somewhat" politically active before the rise of the Tea Party. The Tea Party moniker just gave this group better PR than they had previously and they attracted a minority of folks who were previously "rarely" or never politically engaged. Jacobson calls this minority group of previously disengaged folks a "near majority." Heh.

This insistence by some conservative pundits (Jacobson isn't alone in this) that the previously-disengaged Tea Partiers will be so disillusioned if Romney becomes the nominee that they abandon politics seems to me to be another way of saying that inconsistent voters will behave inconsistently. I'm going to say that again so that it sinks in: inconsistent voters will behave inconsistently. Think of how we chuckle every time a Democrat (or Ron Paul) vows that "this time is the time" the youth vote is gonna totally materialize and save them. Yeah, no. Inconsistent voters are inconsistent.

Assuming for the sake of argument that it's even true that the Tea Partiers will return to apathy and let Obama be reelected if they have to accept Romney (I'm not sure there's anything other than anecdotes to support this assumption, but the anti-Romney folks really need it to be true, so let's proceed...), I'm not sure why such a fickle group of people should be catered to.

Obama is poised to reshape the United States, not just for the next few years, but for a generation. At least two, and probably three, and quite possibly four Supreme Court justices will be chosen by whoever wins the 2012 election. Think of what a liberal Supreme Court would have done in just the past few years. The Second Amendment would be treated only as a collective right (Heller and McDonald). Citizens could be prohibited from exercising their freedom of speech when they also exercise their freedom of association (Citizens United). Capital punishment would be unconstitutional (Roper and Kennedy dissents). The partial-birth abortion ban would be unconstitutional (Carhart). Private organizations couldn't exclude members they don't want (Boy Scouts of America). Now imagine what a liberal Supreme Court could during the next thirty years.

So that's the danger; Obama gets to fundamentally reshape the United States into a European- or maybe Canadian-flavored state. And it confuses me when Professor Jacobson suggests both that (1) the Tea Partiers are ready to disengage from politics; and (2) we should make policy and candidate choices based on the Tea Party's preferences. It seems to me that the first suggestion should rule out the second.

It's silly to say that inconsistent voters will be less inconsistent if only we cater to their every whim. It may be true. I doubt it, but it could be true. But there's no reason in the world that we should take such a risk. Not when the future of American exceptionalism is at stake.

If Jacobson wants to convince me that the Tea Party should get to choose our candidate, he should argue that the Tea Party can deliver success over Obama. Not that they'll stick their heads (back) in the ground if they don't get their way. Powerful voting blocs are not composed of people who are only a primary away from disengaging from politics. I want the people on my team to be committed to seeing this election through to the general election defeat of President Obama. Amazingly, the most consistent group of folks with that aim are the Romney supporters, among which I now (since my man Perry is out) count myself.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:34 AM

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