Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why the Tea Party is supporting Rick Santorum

Conor Friedersdorf continues his nobel pursuit to convince Tea Partiers to not support Santorum. His point is that the Tea Party was supposed to be about:

fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets,' as the Tea Party Patriots' credo put it, the movement had supposedly put social issues on the back burner to focus on the crisis of government growth."

As I said in my post asking if Santorum is a closet liberal (he isn't), Santorum is not a classic conservative. He doesn't believe in limited gov't the way libertarians or some liberals do. I haven't heard him discuss free markets, at least as much as contraception and cultural issues. And I doubt he would be much more fiscally responsible (whatever that means) than Bush or most other GOP candidates.

So why are Tea Partiers showing their support for him? While Conor would like to believe the Tea Party was about those things I quoted above, it wasn't all about those things. I think it was mainly a reaction to the election of Obama. The reason it appeared to be about libertarian type things was that the economy was the main issue at the time. That and the always central policy preference for conservative Republicans (which what the Tea Party was, not some new or different demographic) of lower taxes. Cultural or social issues weren't at the forefront because we were in a really bad recession. Thus the media and political leaders weren't focused on cultural/social issues like contraception or abortion.

The reason Santorum is doing well with Tea Partiers is because Tea Partiers are the base of the Republican party. They just rebranded themselves. Thus, the stances and concerns about cultural/social issues were always there. They were just bubbling beneath the surface. Oh, I forgot about foreign policy, which is something they agree with Santorum on instead of Ron Paul. Again, this demonstrates that the Tea Partiers were just classic Republicans, not some new libertarian movement.

If the Tea Party was the libertarian, small gov't movement that Conor wants them to be, they would be flocking to Ron Paul. He is a nearly ideal candidate for small gov't libertarians. But he doesn't have the Tea Party's overwhelming support because the Tea Party isn't a libertarian movement. And now that the economy is slightly better off than it was when Obama came into office, the media and political leaders are focusing their attention on other issues.

Even with a shift of attention, a true libertarian group would have Ron Paul to back. He doesn't shy away from discussing social and foreign issues. But he doesn't get the support Santorum has been getting because he takes libertarian stances on those issues and he doesn't frame his arguments against Obama the way Santorum does. Santorum is speaking their language, one of a hatred of Obama and moral outrage that christians aren't getting their way. It's very different than the language of limited gov't and classic conservative ideology that Ron Paul uses.

So basically, I don't think the Tea Party ever was the libertarian movement Conor wants them to be. They are now backing Santorum because he most close fits what they believe and want in a candidate. You could argue that media framing has hurt Ron Paul in the sense that he doesn't get the coverage he should warrant. But I think that would only go so far in explaining the non-libertarian tendencies of the Tea Party support. Paul has been around for two election cycles and thus should be plenty familiar enough to conservatives that if they agreed with him he would have their support regardless of media exposure. He doesn't have the support because they disagree with him. We just didn't know it until the economy and taxes stopped being the only issues being discussed.

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