Tea party will ‘absolutely’ back Romney in general election, says movement leader

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Though the tea party wasn’t particularly enthused about Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy during the primary, one tea party leader who was present at the inception of the movement says the tea party will get behind the former Massachusetts governor going into the general election.

“Absolutely, the tea party can and will support Mitt Romney in the general election, and with great energy in the door-to-door ground game,” said Michael Patrick Leahy, co-founder of The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition and author of the recently released book, “Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.”

“It’s important also to note that this is a strong sentiment at the local level — among the 3,000-plus local tea parties.”

“Though on the core values, Mitt Romney’s not as aligned with us as Michele Bachmann, he’s far superior to Barack Obama,” Leahy added.

“Our job in the tea party movement is to cautiously but vigorously befriend Romney, while reserving the right to encourage him — continuously — to align more closely with our core values. This encouragement to align has already begun, and it will continue through and beyond election day.”

Leahy also pushed back against the notion that the tea party is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

“[T]he tea party’s grassroots get-out-the-vote activities will be the deciding force of the 2012 presidential election,” he contested. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tea party movement)

“There are over 3,000 local tea parties around the country, and new tea parties are forming every day. The number of Americans who support the tea party movement — 66 million — is slightly higher than it was two years ago.”

“We’ve just changed our tactics,” he went on. “Instead of holding high-profile rallies, we’re focused on the nuts and bolts of building local get-out-the-vote organizations.”

Read the full interview with Leahy about his book and the state of the tea party movement below:

Why did you write the book?

I wrote “Covenant of Liberty” for two reasons.

First, I wanted to set forward the strong intellectual basis for the tea party movement. I wanted to show how deeply the movement and our three core values of constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility are rooted in the traditions of several centuries of Anglo-American liberty and the rule of law.

Second, I wanted to make sure that the true story of how the tea party movement was launched in 2009 was documented, for both the historical record and for people who are either currently part of it or are generally interested in learning about it.

I know that story because I was right at the center of things. I helped launch the movement.

A number of books have been written by biased and intellectually dishonest academics and journalists whose purpose has been to promote a false narrative about the movement. Many of these are propagandists of the first order, and I felt it was important that the truth about the movement needed to be told, even if the usual suspects on the left pay no attention to that truth.


What do you believe are the underlying core principles of the tea party movement? 

Our three core values are constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal responsibility. Social issues are not in the equation, and haven’t been from the start.

I write in my book, “Covenant of Liberty,” about how we arrived at these three core values.

During December 2008 and January 2009, our group at Top Conservatives on Twitter developed  a statement of purpose. We took the five pillars from the Heritage Foundation as a starting point. We removed one of those five pillars — a strong national defense — because we thought it was a subset of constitutionally limited government. We removed another of those five pillars — traditional values — because it was highly subjective and it was very clear that among the thousand-plus members of Top Conservatives on Twitter, there was no consensus as to what “traditional values” meant.

When Rick Santelli’s rant ignited the movement on February 19, 2009, we were ready, both organizationally and intellectually, to harness the energy his viral video unleashed and focus it very quickly into what quickly became the tea party movement.

Based on the Top Conservatives on Twitter statement of purpose, we had a clear vision that the message of the first tea parties would be focused on fiscal responsibility, which in turn derived from constitutionally limited government, and supported free markets. We established that theme and pushed it out over social media very quickly, and virtually everyone who attended those first tea parties agreed that those were our three core values. It was a naturally occurring collaborative consensus.

You write that the tea party came to be after the American political class broke four promises embedded in the Constitution. What are those?

The first promise — to abide by the written words of the Constitution (the Promise of Plain Meaning) — was broken before the ink was dry on the nation’s founding documents. The second — to refrain from interfering in private economic matters (the Promise of Free Markets) — was broken first by the Republican Party during the 1860s, and then more dramatically by Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party during World War I. The third — to honor the customs, traditions and principles of “the fiscal constitution” (the Promise of the Fiscal Constitution) — was broken by Herbert Hoover in 1931, and by every subsequent president, some more egregious than others. Had not the fourth and final promise — that members of the legislative branch would exercise thoughtful deliberation while giving respectful consideration to the views of their constituents (the Promise of Deliberative Accountability) — been broken in such a disdainful and audacious manner in early 2009, the grassroots activists who make up the tea party would never have been impelled to take action.


Hasn’t the tea party become irrelevant? They don’t seem to be a very powerful force in the presidential primary.

To the contrary, the tea party’s grassroots get-out-the-vote activities will be the deciding force of the 2012 presidential election.

There are over 3,000 local tea parties around the country, and new tea parties are forming every day. The number of Americans who support the tea party movement — 66 million — is slightly higher than it was two years ago.

We’ve just changed our tactics. Instead of holding high-profile rallies, we’re focused on the nuts and bolts of building local get-out-the-vote organizations.

As to the presidential primary, you have to remember that it takes time to develop a presidential candidate. Three years is not a lot of time. Now that Mitt Romney has virtually locked up the Republican nomination, our role is to encourage him to align more closely with our three core values and to lead the ground game to get him elected.

Since the tea party-driven electoral successes of 2010, the Obama administration and the mainstream media have put out an avalanche of blatantly false anti-tea party stories. Every time the Obama administration references the tea party, they attach the phony “extremist” label and the mainstream media runs with it. They ascribe to us views on social issues we don’t have, and then don’t report the simple fact that our three core values have nothing to do with social values.

The real extremism in America today is the financially reckless extremism of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress.

So when you see the predictable stories in the mainstream media that the tea party is “losing steam,” remember that it’s all part of an effort to marginalize and discourage us. But we’re on to their game, and it’s not working.

Do you think there was tea party overreach during the 2010 midterms with supporting candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle? Many people think the GOP lost several potential Senate seats because the tea party got behind poor and what you might nicely call “eccentric” candidates.

The principle should always be to vote for the candidate who most closely aligns with the tea party’s three core values in the primary, then do the same thing in the general election.

Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell were the candidates in the Republican primaries in Nevada and Delaware respectively, whose policies were most closely aligned with the tea party’s values, so it was good that they won the primaries.

Remember, we’re the tea party, not the GOP. So far, Establishment GOP control of the House of Representatives hasn’t resulted in the accomplishment of tea party objectives, and Establishment GOP control of the Senate in this Congress wouldn’t have been any different, in my opinion. Establishment Republicans are not nearly as bad as the Democrats, but they’re not constitutional conservatives in the sense that we are.

Look at the record of the GOP in the House of Representatives since it took control after the 2010 elections.

Spending in FY 2011 actually increased under their watch. And they couldn’t even repeal the ridiculous light bulb ban. The House GOP leadership managed legislative priorities so poorly, they got caught up in the entirely avoidable “threat of government shutdown” fiasco.


Can tea partiers support Mitt Romney in the general election? Do you believe he shares the underlying core principles of the movement?

Absolutely, the tea party can and will support Mitt Romney in the general election, and with great energy in the door-to-door ground game.  It’s important also to note that this is a strong sentiment at the local level — among the 3,000-plus local tea parties.

Though on the core values, Mitt Romney’s not as aligned with us as Michele Bachmann, he’s far superior to Barack Obama. The voters in the primaries decided that the presidency required a set of attributes beyond policy prescriptions, and Michele didn’t receive the level of electoral success we had hoped for.

The reality is, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. We face a stark choice in November between Romney and Obama. That’s it. One of those two men will be inaugurated in January 2013.

Our job in the tea party movement is to cautiously but vigorously befriend Romney, while reserving the right to encourage him — continuously — to align more closely with our core values. This encouragement to align has already begun, and it will continue through and beyond election day.

How will the tea party deal with a major foreign policy crisis? Will they fracture along the Marco Rubio/Rand Paul axis?

The tea party’s view of foreign policy is limited to the first of our three core values: constitutionally limited government. The Constitution requires the president to defend the republic, first and foremost.

Ron Paul hasn’t gained a lot of traction within the tea party movement — despite a very good record on domestic policy — because he is viewed as having a foreign policy that doesn’t defend the republic.

Tea party supporters around the country may have different views about what “defending the republic” means. On one extreme would be those who believe in a very aggressive, activist, pro-active foreign policy. On the other extreme are those who are rather isolationist.

I don’t see these different viewpoints within the tea party movement as being particularly divisive.

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