Memo to Mitt: Tea partiers will measure you by your policies

Matt Kibbe President, FreedomWorks
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After shunning fiscally conservative principles for much of his political career, Mitt Romney has realized it might benefit his presidential campaign to embrace the tea party. In New Hampshire this weekend, Romney held a photo op with the Tea Party Express in an attempt to court this powerful voter bloc, a group he’s spent the last 18 months distancing himself from. Memo to Mitt: We are not props for another stump speech. We care about substantive policies that lift the burden of big government from our struggling economy.

Romney’s appearance at the weekend’s rally smacks of political opportunism. Until he realized the GOP nomination wasn’t a lock, Romney didn’t even reach out to the movement to show solidarity, much less attend a tea party rally. Now he’s cozying up to the tea party brand in an attempt to curry favor. FreedomWorks joined 12 separate Granite State Tea Party groups in Concord on Sunday to speak out against this sudden turn — not as payback for Romney ignoring the tea party until he needed it, but because his record as a governor and presidential candidate stands in stark contrast to tea party principles and goals.

The obvious stain on Romney’s record is Romneycare, the 2006 Massachusetts health care law that served as a blueprint for Obamacare. Romney says he opposes Obamacare, but he has refused to distance himself from his strikingly similar health care law. He even insists that Romneycare “is working well” in spite of overwhelming evidence showing it has led to higher taxes and increased health care costs for both policy holders and state and federal governments. It’s true that our federalist system allows states to do things that the federal government can’t, but it’s wrong for government at any level to violate our basic right to liberty by forcing citizens to buy a product as the individual mandate does. Mitt Romney’s passionate defense of the individual mandate — “I like mandates,” he says — is anathema to tea party values.

But Romney’s anti-tea party record extends far beyond Romneycare, touching on virtually all of the key issues of the 2012 election campaign: taxes, spending, fiscal policy and energy.

Consider his continued support for EPA regulation of carbon. He was an aggressive advocate for Al Gore’s cap-and-trade plan, a now-discredited job-killing tax scheme. In New Hampshire as recently as June, he argued: “It is important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gasses that may well be significant to the climate change and global warming that you are seeing.”

Tea partiers in the Granite State were shocked by what was effectively an endorsement of the Obama administration EPA’s regulatory train wreck, but he did find support from at least one person. “Good for Mitt Romney,” Al Gore said. “While other Republicans are running from the truth, he is sticking to his guns in the face of the anti-science wing of the Republican Party.” Stopping the EPA from destroying American jobs and our access to American energy is a top issue for tea partiers, and Mitt Romney stands with Al Gore, not us.

Tea party voters know our tax system is broken and want it rebuilt, but Romney has declared he is not interested in major reforms that would rebuild the system from the ground up. He opposed a flat tax as “unfair” and has refused to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. In fact, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney enacted $432 million in fee hikes and $309 million in tax increases. The Cato Institute gave Romney a “C” grade on a recent “Fiscal Policy Report Card,” calling Romney’s well-cultivated image as a “no-new-taxes” politician “mostly a myth.”

In his book, the aptly titled “No Apologies,” Romney praised the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which undermined the free market system by rewarding big, poorly run banks with taxpayer money. He insisted the program “prevented a systemic collapse of the national financial system,” criticizing “the way TARP was administered” but supporting its underlying principles.

On broader budget issues, Romney has waffled on solid, conservative, tea party-backed solutions. In May, he expressed vague support for goals of the budget and Medicare solution proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, but refused to say whether he’d sign it. In June he flipped, saying he would sign the Ryan plan but that he would unveil his own budget proposal sometime between now and November 2012 (he sounds a lot like someone else who’s been shooting down other budget proposals while failing to deliver one of his own).

Romney also fails to recognize the damage the Federal Reserve is doing to our economy via its misguided policies. As recently as April, Romney said he wasn’t “going to take my effort and focus on the Federal Reserve.” As for the man leading the Fed’s destruction of our currency, Ben Bernanke — Romney supported his reappointment in 2010.

Romney also supports wasteful and harmful subsidies for ethanol. In an attempt to curry favor in Iowa, Romney recently told a voter there — conveniently in front of reporters — that ethanol “is an important part of our energy solution for this country.” Never mind that ethanol subsidies artificially prop up a market that wouldn’t otherwise survive, and in doing so drive up the price of corn.

The list goes on and on.

Romney can say he’s a small-government conservative all he wants, but his record and comments prove otherwise. Romney has made clear that he is willing to do or say what it takes to push the poll numbers in the right direction, without much regard for adhering to principles and policies that will get our country and our economy back on track.

As the tea party continues to gain momentum in the run-up to primaries and the 2012 general election, we must resist candidates who would co-opt the movement for their own political gain. There are plenty of candidates with long track records of supporting conservative principles and policies that deserve and need our support — we don’t need to waste any more time with bandwagon-jumpers like Mitt Romney.

All hope of earning tea party support is not lost for Mitt Romney, but he must take clear and decisive action to prove he deserves it. He could start by fully retracting his support for climate change legislation and Romneycare, and follow the retractions up with a budget proposal that adheres to the Cap, Cut and Balance approach that will get government spending under control and get our economy back on track.

Matt Kibbe is president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a nationwide grassroots organization fighting for lower taxes, less government and freedom and the author of “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.”