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The Conversation With a Florida Tea Partier That Should Scare Every Republican

Last week, Mollie raised an interesting point about what a Mitt Romney nomination means for the Republican Party. In the comments, I shared my concern concerning the lean-Republican independents who make up much of the Tea Party, and who prior to 2009 were mostly inactive in politics beyond regularly voting.

The Tea Party is a collection of people who felt compelled to transition from citizens to activists in favor of limited government and fiscal restraint. Many sacrifice time away from family, work, and life in a desperate attempt to save the nation they love, from their perspective. My concern is that the Tea Party will recoil from supporting a Republican Party that is headed by John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Mitt Romney.

I spoke with one such Tea Partier, Rebecca from Florida, over the weekend. She’s a retired detective turned young stay-at-home mom, who labels herself a “generic Tea Partier.” What she had to say was fascinating and illuminating, and it should concern just about every smart Republican. She was gracious enough to let me publicize her thoughts here at Ricochet.

Here’s what she had to share:

“I became politically engaged after the 2008 election,” Rebecca told me. “I used to only vote in Presidential elections and local elections that were of interest to me. In January of 2008 I saw Barack Obama give a speech and I was really wowed. He is quite a gifted speaker.” She admits that she “liked what he was saying, but some things were just a little off.”

She started listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck again, wanting to hear what this Obama fellow was really about. But beyond that, she didn’t engage in activism – she just showed up to vote for McCain, despite what she considered his “progressivism.”

“Obama got elected. Then Obamacare was rammed through. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe the shady way such important legislation was passed,” Rebecca said. “I have some like-minded mommy friends and I got together with them. I joined our local 9/12 Project, and As A Mom and the TEA Party of Tampa Bay.”

Via email and Twitter, Rebecca started sharing information, organizing, paying more attention to what was happening. She took early retirement in 2010 to stay home with her son (Benjamin – a great name, am I right?), and gave birth to another young son (Jameson) last May.

“You see, I now have *much* more to think about in regards to the future of our country,” Rebecca said, and happily so. She redoubled her efforts, achieving a level of engagement in politics she’d never had before, and as you all know, Florida’s Senate race was ground zero for this movement.

“Casting my vote for Marco Rubio in the primary and then again in the general gave me this amazing feeling of accomplishment,” Rebecca said. “I felt like we had done it. First, when he beat Crist for the Republican nod. When he won the seat, I felt like I had finally been able to cast a vote for someone I *believed* in, instead of just choosing the least worst one.”

“2010 was a real turning point for me. I watched the midterm election results as we won the House with some good, solid conservatives and I felt so proud and accomplished. I felt like we – the TEA Party, my mommy friends, ME – we had made a difference,” Rebecca said. “We were helping to put our country back on the right path, and return to the ideals of our founders.”

“Then came 2011,” Rebecca says, and her mood clouds. “It felt like every time I turned around, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were selling us out, hanging our Tea Party freshmen out to dry, and doing it for no apparent reason.” mcconnell_boehner_550.jpgShe’s unsure why this is. “Are they idiots, or just the worst chess/poker players ever? Every time they have an opportunity to limit government, reduce taxes, etc. they blow it.”

And all the while, President Obama is able to “look like he’s trying, he’s really trying, but the ‘Republican Controlled Congress’ keeps getting in the way. The debt ceiling increases. The lack of a budget. The 30-odd House passed bills that Harry Reid won’t allow a vote on.” Indeed, Rebecca is so infuriated with the Congress’ inability to carry their message or push back, she thinks a third party might be needed.

“I almost feel as though there needs to be a new party, a truly conservative party, that really represents us. Sometimes I feel like the GOP is more interested in protecting their jobs than in promoting conservative ideals. At least, that’s what Boehner and McConnell make me think,” Rebecca said.  “Why can’t we have a party full of Rubios – candidates who believe in American exceptionalism and limited government, and do so unapologetically? Why do we have to have so many squishes?”

The Republican presidential stakes kicked in, and Rebecca engaged. Her hopes rise with Rick Perry’s entrance, but then “he gets hammered for stupid things, and drops.” She thought about Herman Cain, “but his lack of campaign management was disconcerting.” She never really thought Bachmann would make it to Florida, and says “Erick Erickson has educated me too much to cast a vote for Rick Santorum.”  She considers Ron Paul’s views right on a number of accounts, but thinks his foreign policy is “crazy.”

“So here I am, supporting Newt Gingrich,” Rebecca says. “I’m not in love with Newt, but I trust him more to stay true to conservative ideals. The guy pushed Clinton right, for goodness sake. I only trust Mitt to stay true to himself.”

So, Rebecca, about Mitt: why not Romney this time?

“I don’t trust him, and I don’t think he can win. He is utterly unaware of how offensive his disconnect with the average American is. He drops $10K bets like it’s nothing. He thinks $342,000 isn’t very much to make in a year,” Rebecca said. “I don’t begrudge him his wealth – he worked for it and earned it and that is admirable. But I hate his lack of awareness of how super-wealthy he is. His flip-flops are legendary.”

“Oh, and he invented Obamacare.”

“I see a Romney nomination causing Tea Partiers like me to tune out. We are already disheartened by the congressional leadership. Romney will be the final nail in the coffin. He is completely uninspiring, and is everything we have been working so hard to defeat within the GOP,” Rebecca said. “Don’t even get me started on that Bain Capital picture. Ugh. There is no way he can win. And I don’t want to have to defend him while he tries.”

“What is the point in becoming educated on candidates and politics, arguing with my friends, taking the time away from my family – to end up with the guy McCain can’t even look in the eye. Why bother?” Rebecca says. “Obviously the “establishment” has already decided it’s Romney’s turn, and to hell with what we want. I feel like I’m being patted on the head and told “Now go vote for Romney like a good little girl. We know what’s best.”… I don’t even do that to my 3-year-old. It’s insulting. It doesn’t make me want to campaign for him.”

“It honestly makes me want to skip the election, but Obama scares me too much to do that. I do think a Romney presidency will hurt the GOP brand though, and make it hard for a real conservative to have a shot,” Rebecca said. “I feel like this is so similar to our 2010 Senate race. Romney is the Crist candidate, loved by many and backed by the establishment. But we have no Rubio. Crist would have been an easy win. He was a liked governor. Without Rubio, he would have easily won the seat. Just because we don’t have a Rubio in this race doesn’t mean we need to settle for a Crist.”

Rebecca feels pressure, among more longstanding Republicans, to get on board the idea of Romney. But she says she’s more likely to disengage. This is part of my overall concern: where cycles of political strife often include longtime activists bemoaning flawed nominees (as we saw in 2008 with McCain, and 1996 with Dole) and threatening to walk away, these are paid professionals who have been actively engaged in politics for decades. The Tea Party has a much shorter timeframe of engagement, which may indicate they are more likely to return to their previously disenfranchised state.

“It’s like [Republicans] think because I don’t eat, sleep and breathe politics, I can’t make an informed decision – it must be emotional. My guy lost so I don’t want your guy to win. When really I just don’t think your guy is the best guy for the job,” Rebecca said. “I can easily see a decreased Tea Party voter turn out if Romney is the nominee. I know political pundits may find this hard to believe, but not everyone’s life revolves around elections. Are they important? Yes. Should people vote? Absolutely. But LIFE happens.”

Rebecca tabulates her schedule for tomorrow, Florida’s election day – a typical Tuesday for her household. She flies solo nearly all day, and she’s never voted early. Husband’s breakfast/lunch packed. Get her two boys up. Breakfast/lunch packed for them. Thirty minutes to Kindermusik, all morning there. Home early afternoon, already late for their naps. Errands, an abbreviated playtime. Dinner, baths, bed. Just voting, she says, is nearly impossible with two youngsters during the day lest naptimes and eating schedules be disrupted, and there’s no way she can even attempt to get it done with both kids after about 5 because of the after-work crowds. But she’ll still do it.

“I will be voting this Tuesday. I will make it fit into my schedule. I feel like my vote matters right now,” Rebecca said. “But can you see how I might not make it a priority if I feel like either my vote doesn’t matter, or if I don’t feel like the candidate I’m voting for will be much different then what we have? Can you see how life may take precedence over casting an uninspired vote? I can’t be alone in this thought process, and if enough people feel this way (and I think they will) it will be catastrophic for Romney and really very bad down-ticket as well.”

Will the Tea Party remain engaged in a party led by Romney, Boehner, and McConnell? Rebecca thinks we are about to find out.

“I feel like the people who live politics just don’t understand those of us who don’t. I am a self-identified political junkie. I am enthralled this cycle with how things change so quickly, and I am trying to stay very informed. But I have to be honest, my time is limited. My family, my boys are my everything. Being informed takes time away from them,” she says, whether it’s engaging online, organizing activist responses, pushing back their naps to attend a rally.

“If I don’t feel like I’m making a difference, where is my incentive to take that time from them?” Rebecca asks.

How Republicans answer her, and the concerns of those like her, may decide their future as a party in 2012 and beyond.

  1. Andrew Quinn

    Rebecca is absolutely correct in demanding a “party full of Rubios” and wondering why the GOP leadership in Congress has proven so inept at doing battle with the President in an effective way.

    But she is totally off-base when she buys into the nonsense notion that, just because some illusory “Establishment” straw man is backing Romney, Gingrich must represent a better option for true conservative believers. Anyone who compares Mitt’s and Newt’s records and life stories and comes away with the impression that Romney is the power-hungry egomaniac is looking at politics in a funhouse mirror. Mitt has consistently been a center-right technocrat who believes in public service and lives his life with honor; Newt has consistently been a say-anything firebrand who wants to be a Republican Kennedy or Johnson, possessing no prudence nor any other actually conservative personal value.

    Am I thrilled that our best option is a center-right technocrat? Of course not. But any who would anoint Gingrich, the architect of modern-day Republican progressivism, as some kind of Tea Party standard bearer is letting Mitt Derangement Syndrome crowd out any objective analysis.

  2. Stuart Creque

    Interesting. My wife echoed some of Rebecca’s sentiments the other day when she said that Romney is too rich to relate to what working folk are going through. (However, my mother says she’s coming to like Romney – though she will surely still vote for Obama in November).

  3. Bryan G. Stephens

    Rebecca pretty much sums up how I feel perfectly, with less anger. Great post. Do you think anyone will hear her?

  4. Roberto

    Romney is the anti-Tea Party candidate, he is everything in the GOP we loathe. I read the words of this woman and see many of my thoughts echoed.

  5. Pseudodionysius

    “Just because we don’t have a Rubio in this race doesn’t mean we need to settle for a Crist.”

    Combined with Jeb Bush’s lack of an endorsement, I hope someone can voiceover that on Youtube and play it over and over and over and over…..

  6. Bryan G. Stephens

    “But any who would anoint Gingrich, the architect of modern-day Republican progressivism, as some kind of Tea Party standard bearer is letting Mitt Derangement Syndrome crowd out any objective analysis.”

    I don’t want Newt. I want a Rubio. I am left with only one other choice than a man that refuses to repudiate tyranny.

    Romney is for putting a gun to my head and telling me how to spend my money. Period. I don’t want to vote for a rich man that thinks he has the right to tell me how to spend my money. Period.

    If Romney wants my vote, all he has to do is repudiate Romneycare. But he won’t.

    And I am being unreasonable wanting to vote for someone else?

  7. wmartin

     The latest Survey USA  poll shows Romney now beating Gingrich among Tea Partiers by two points.

    In the latest Suffolk poll. Florida voters say that Gingrich has run the more negative campaign by six points.

  8. Valiuth

    So the Tea Party people have a hard time defending Mitt Romney to other republicans…what makes them sure they can defend Newt Gingrich to non-republicans?

    The Mitt supporters feel like they will have a hard time defending Newt Gingrich because of all the things he says…(Ann Coulter said that on Left Coast/Right Coast.) The Establishment guys are the ones that will always be in the trenches, they are the van guard, the veterans of political fights. They will have to be the ones to apologize for and explain Newt. If we nominate Newt will all of these Tea Party guys be out there in the streets and on TV explaining Newt’s moon base ideas in a manner that will convince some one who is as likely to vote for Obama as he is to vote against him? They better be because the Establishment Republicans have said they have nothing to defend him with on that…I have many liberalesgue friends of rather good and thoughtful natures…I have no idea how I could defend the moon base to them, without feeling like a fool myself…

  9. Gus Marvinson

    If candidates spoke clearly on important issues and could be counted on to do as they say, there would be no need for busy moms and dads to spend precious time divining chicken entrails to figure out who to vote for.

    Yeah, I know.

  10. Guruforhire

     Mitt will kill the party, and still lose the election.  Welcome to the end of the new whigs.

    There has to be a point to winning outside of changing the brand name on the status quo.

  11. Noesis Noeseos

    Am I thrilled that our best option is a center-right technocrat? Of course not. But any who would anoint Gingrich, the architect of modern-day Republican progressivism, as some kind of Tea Party standard bearer is letting Mitt Derangement Syndrome crowd out any objective analysis. · 8 minutes ago

     Edited 8 minutes ago

    What Newt accomplished with the Contract with America, balancing the budget, and reforming federal welfare made him an “architect of modern-day Republican progressivism [emphasis yours]“?  You are also a little profligate with accusations of “Mitt Derangement Syndrome.”  Just what in the lady’s discussion showed a neurosis?  Please, do not resort to the same flights of rhetoric you would dislike of Newt.

    Some of Newt’s ideas and his work as an advocate have been troubling, but I have yet to see an example of anything he did as Congressman that stands to the left of what Romney did as governor.  I would not call the latter center-right at all.

  12. Guruforhire
    Andrew Quinn:

    Am I thrilled that our best option is a center-right technocrat? Of course not. But any who would anoint Gingrich, the architect of modern-day Republican progressivism, as some kind of Tea Party standard bearer is letting Mitt Derangement Syndrome crowd out any objective analysis. · 20 minutes ago

    Edited 19 minutes ago

    You are engaging in a sophism.  Newt isnt a standard bearer only the least bad and most likely to push for big reforms.  Your arguement is a strawman.

  13. Mel Foil

    Yup, the sheep are rebelling against the border collies.

  14. Nathaniel Wright

    I admire those who make their opinions clear and support the candidate that most matches their preferences.  That is what this process is all about. 

    Rebecca manages to share why she prefers Newt over Romney in a very thoughtful manner.  In fact, though I favor Romney over Newt, I admit that her concerns are legitimate.  

    I like Romney on a number of issues, but Romneycare is a concern.  Like Rebecca, I don’t necessarily trust the man who created Romneycare to fight furiously to repeal Obamacare.  But I don’t think this comes down to just the Presidential race.  We need a Tea Party fueled election that brings into power a strong conservative Congress.  This Congress will have the influence to persuade Romney, he seems to respond to constituent pressure historically.

    The Tea Party of Florida gave us Rubio.  Thank heaven for them.  The Tea Party of Nevada gave us Angle and Sandoval… Nevada’s Tea Party is batting .500.  

    I advise Rebecca, and those like her, to advocate Newt strongly during the primary.  Support him and vote for him.  Then vote against Obama regardless of candidate in the fall — down the whole ticket.  

  15. Nobody

    Politicians only respond to two things: cash and the fear of losing their seats.

    In 2010, pretty much every Republican who was vulnerable to a Tea Party primary opponent either lost to that opponent or made the right noises to soothe the pitchfork crowd.  So the fear factor is now pretty much negligible. 

    That leaves cash.  But the Tea Party doesn’t have the cash to compete with the rent seekers with whom Republican politicians curry favor.

    So naturally the Tea Party has lost its clout and it’s back to business as usual.  

    So it just might be that the only way for Tea Party principles to prevail is to destroy and replace the Republican party.

  16. BlueAnt

    It’s an excellent point.  The Tea Party revived conservative values and the Republican party in 2010, but they can’t be the sole source of energy for the party.  The party has to give back. The “elite” can’t keep taking voter energy and wasting it, they have to generate new energy themselves with leadership, bold policies, and actual political success.

    And Ben, for a Florida voter like myself, that picture of Romney getting cozy with former governor Charlie Crist is the most effective argument against Romney you could make.  The guy went from having Romney levels of lukewarm support, to being the poster boy for GOP leftward drift, to abandoning the Republican party when they nominated Marco Rubio, to doing personal injury lawyer ads.

    All Newt needs to do to win FL is show up and say “Folks, Mitt Romney is a carbon copy of Charlie Crist”.  The resulting landslide would confuse every GOP pundit who doesn’t live here.

  17. Cobalt Blue

    Very interesting article – thanks for posting. Rebecca certainly lays out clear cases against Romney and for why the GOP keeps earning its Stupid Party appellation, but what’s scary about the article is how the implications of a possible Obama victory are apparently not appreciated by some Tea Partiers.

    Assuming he is nominated, I share the concerns of many that Romney would not govern as a small-government conservative, but I’m reminded of an episode from the 1980 campaign in which Reagan toured Harlem and was treated by the locals to repeated shouts of “What are you going to do for us?” He shot back, “I can’t do anything for you if I’m not elected!” As much as some of us might not trust his instincts, we can be absolutely sure that Romney would be far more open to our views than would Obama in a second term. Romney won’t be able to do anything for conservatives if he loses the election. Sitting on our hands and letting Obama win … now that’s a picture that should really scare us.

  18. Guruforhire
    Nobody’s Perfect: Politicians only respond to two things: cash and the fear of losing their seats.

    In 2010, pretty much every Republican who was vulnerable to a Tea Party primary opponent either lost to that opponent or made the right noises to soothe the pitchfork crowd.  So the fear factor is now pretty much negligible. 

    That leaves cash.  But the Tea Party doesn’t have the cash to compete with the rent seekers with whom Republican politicians curry favor.

    So naturally the Tea Party has lost its clout and it’s back to business as usual.  

    So it just might be that the only way for Tea Party principles to prevail is to destroy and replace the Republican party. · 7 minutes ago

    How can I get in on the ground floor of that?

  19. Pilli

    In 1994, I stood on corners waving at cars and holding signs for my Republican Congressional candidate.  I went door-to-door hanging tags on doors.  I gave a LOT of time to his campaign and to the idea of a Contract with America.

    A year later, I watched the Rinos in the Senate kill every important Contract With America bill sent from the House.  (Most importantly, term limits.)

    As a professed Tea Partier, I donated to Allen West and Marco Rubio.  I don’t have the inclination to actually participate (see experience mentioned above.)

    After watching what Boehner and McConnell have done to the Tea Party people in 2011, I can promise that I will ACTIVELY support a 3rd party when Romney loses to Obama. (Or if he wins and then allows the gov’t to grow.)

  20. C. U. Douglas

    I can empathize with this interview.  2010 was not possible without the Tea Party.  Unfortunately, I think many of these new activists have to learn that activism needs to be in it for the long haul.  Our leaders will not willingly turn from the path they follow.  They’ll just argue about how fast we drive.

    However, I shudder to think of a third party.  Too often in modern time it spells the death of activist movements, or the marginalization.  Worse, too often third parties cut off their nose to spite their face — getting the party they dislike more elected because the party they dislike less just won’t quite live up to the standard.

    The two party system is imperfect, but it’s a bit more in line with the ideas of a Representative Republic.  The nomination process is important in this part, which is why I tend to ignore those who tell me to be quiet and just go with the guy the Establishment has picked.

    I’m meandering, I suspect.  Really, in short, the Tea Party is right in that we need to restore our nation, but it won’t happen in just a year.

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