Why a Newt Gingrich Candidacy Would Doom the Tea Party

The movement can't support him without compromising itself. And opposing him if he's the GOP nominee? They likely don't have it in them.

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Gallup finds that 82 percent of Tea Party affiliated voters deem Newt Gingrich an acceptable Republican presidential nominee in 2012. They don't seem to realize that if he wins the nod their movement is doomed, regardless of how the general election goes. The Tea Party cannot support Gingrich without betraying its core principles. But the movement also cannot disclaim him once he is the Republican nominee.

Tea Partiers with a better instinct for self-preservation would see that none of the Mitt Romney alternatives still running would be as corrosive to their cause as the former Speaker of the House.  

Why?

The Tea Party wasn't just a reaction to President Obama or the financial industry bailouts. As Jonah Goldberg puts it, "a major motivating passion of the tea-party movement was a long-delayed backlash against George W. Bush and his big-government conservatism." Support for the War on Terrorism and the invasion of Iraq caused many conservatives to stay loyal to Bush. But that didn't mean they liked No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the attempt at a guest worker program, TARP, or the Harriet Miers nomination. Especially after the defeat of John McCain, many on the right insisted they'd never again support Bush-Rove conservatism.

And Gingrich supported almost all the most controversial Bush-Rove policies! 

He favored No Child Left Behind, an unprecedented federal intervention in education. He supported Medicare Part D, a brand new, budget-busting drug entitlement. He supported "comprehensive immigration reform," perhaps the most divisive-among-conservatives policy initiative of the aughts. He urged the passage of TARP. And he even spoke favorably about the infamous Harriet Miers nomination, a George W. Bush misstep that caused many of his most loyal supporters to rebel.

Tea Partiers pledged that if they had their way the GOP would never again have as its champion a federal government enlarging, entitlement expanding, amnesty urging, Bush-style Republican.

To do so just four years on would be a significant failure.

Another Tea Party talking point is its suspicion of Washington, D.C., insiders. For all Sarah Palin's flaws, the Tea Partiers who rallied around her could at least justifiably claim that she had authentic roots far from Washington and a record in Alaska of taking on corrupt political insiders who sought to enrich themselves at public expense. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain -- all these flawed Tea Party favorites have at least some claim to outsider status.

But Gingrich? He is the epitome of the Inside the Beltway insider, and not only because of his long stint in Congress. After retiring, he profited lavishly off connections he made on the taxpayer dime, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars influence-pedaling. Most famously, he got $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, the very entity that many conservatives regard as most culpable for the financial crisis. And then he had the temerity to insist that he was paid as "a historian," an explanation so transparently farcical that it can justifiably be seen as an insult to the intelligence of GOP primary voters.

As if supporting such a man weren't incoherent enough already, a movement that valorizes Joe the Plumber, family values and hockey moms is now rallying behind a long-winded former academic turned career politician with an affinity for private planes, chauffeurs, and buying Tiffany and Co. jewelry for his third wife. It's as if Kanye West wrote a politician into his last album.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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