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Tea Party Mitt?

A Commentary By Scott Rasmussen

Friday, January 13, 2012

The race for the 2012 GOP nomination has been properly characterized as one between two candidates: Mitt Romney and Nott Romney. Some describe it as a rift between the party establishment favoring Romney and the party base looking for someone else. Others say it’s a battle between head and heart, with the pro-Romney forces thinking pragmatically and others wanting ideological purity.

Many Washington, D.C., Republicans fear that tea party unwillingness to accept a pragmatic candidate like Romney will hurt the GOP in November. Rasmussen Reports polling shows that this view has found its way into the public perception as well: 46 percent of voters nationwide believe that the tea party will hurt Republicans in 2012, while only 26 percent believe it will help. Just 13 percent of voters now consider themselves part of the grass-roots movement, down from more than 20 percent from a year ago. In the public mind, the tea party is more troubling for Republicans than the Occupy movement is for Democrats.

The conventional wisdom suggests that tea party supporters have a “my way or the highway” attitude and Establishment Republicans just want a winner, but the data shows that the opposite is true.

Looking ahead to the Florida primary, 94 percent of tea party Republicans say they will vote for whomever wins the GOP nomination. Only 77 percent of non-tea party Republicans are willing to make the same pledge. This commitment to party loyalty comes even though tea party activists are less convinced than others that Romney is the strongest general election candidate. Similar results have been found in survey after survey in the 2012 primary season.

The pragmatism of the tea party is confirmed by exit polling data conducted for The Associated Press and major television networks in New Hampshire. Among those who support the tea party, 44 percent said the ability to beat President Obama was the most important quality they wanted in a candidate. Nothing else came close.

However, among those who oppose the tea party, only 19 percent put electability first. Fifty-three percent of this group said experience is the most important quality. In other words, the supposedly more pragmatic Republicans think it’s more important to have a candidate with experience in the current political system than it is to have a candidate who can beat Obama. That’s what causes the great divide between the GOP base and its representatives in Washington.

Those outside the Beltway are skeptical of insiders with experience in a system that created trillion dollar deficits and massive amounts of public distrust. Tea party supporters prefer someone who can shake up the status quo over someone who can manage the club a little better. But they are clearly willing to settle for a candidate who can win. Those who oppose the tea party appear to be more afraid of an outsider shaking up the club than they are of a second term for the president.

Put it all together, and Romney, if he is fortunate enough to win the GOP nomination, will have the support of both the tea party and Washington Republicans on Election Day. If Romney moves into the White House next January, the outsiders will hold him accountable for his promises on everything from repealing Obama’s health care law to fixing the economy. If he doesn’t shake things up in Washington pretty quickly, the tea party will be looking for someone new.

COPYRIGHT 2011 SCOTT RASMUSSEN

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