"The Tea Party's supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today," he recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
Nor does evidence support the myth that the tea party is a libertarian-leaning faction of the conservative movement. "Americans who support the conservative Christian movement, sometimes known as the religious right, also overwhelmingly support the Tea Party," noted a February Pew poll, finding that tea partiers were more likely to support traditional conservative positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
In every case (Selzer's polls, Putnam's data, and Pew's research), tea partiers are simply more strident conservatives, less likely to hold Democratic beliefs than the average Republican. Unsurprisingly, last night, polling-aware primary candidates marched in lockstep with Republican core values, offering the exact same plans and rhetoric that defined the last three presidential debates.
On economic issues, candidates cheerfully paraded their existing small-government credentials: Herman Cain wants to require that every new federal regulation be matched by the abolishment of an existing regulation, Rick Santorum will cut the current 35 percent corporate tax rate to zero, Rick Perry touted litigation reform, and everyone on stage enthusiastically wants to gut the current health-care law.
On the dicier issue of entitlements, Perry looked straight into the camera and said that keeping Social Security for seniors was a "slam-dunk guarantee," but warned that it would not be available for younger workers. In a bit of deja vu from the Fox News debate last week, Cain again followed up a lively, but solution-less back-and-forth between Romney and Perry on Social Security with his own plan of op-out private retirement accounts.
On defense, in response to a question about reducing military spending, Newt Gingrich implicitly sided with strong defense, arguing: "I think we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security. I think that we are greatly underestimating the threat to this country. And I think that the day after we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we should be reminded exactly what is at stake if a foreign terrorist gets a nuclear weapon into this country."
When Rick Santorum was asked the same question by CNN two months ago about military spending vs. national deficits, he held steadfast on the question of a strong military, contending that a proper defense: "means that [troops] are not just positioned in the Middle East, but around the world. That means we have to have the ability to confront those threats from around the world, which means we need basing around the world."