Republican strategists say tea partyers and supporters of Mr. Paul and his father, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, will be essential to the coalition they will need to defeat President Obama in November, but the two sides have been at odds over their choices of candidates in state primaries and over who will wield more influence within the Republican Party.
“There may be some of Ron Paul’s supporters who respect his values so much that they think that voting for anything less than Ron Paul would be a compromising of their values,” Tea Party Patriots founder and national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin said. “Rand Paul is saying you’re not compromising your principles — you’re getting yourselves a step closer to our principles by working with the tea party to help Romney.”
Ron and Rand Paul have enunciated essentially identical libertarian-conservative worldviews but have engaged in a delicate, nuanced and symbolic dance as the son Paul sets about forming an alliance of his own followers, his fathers’ and those of the tea party, said Paul boosters who have ties to the Romney campaign as well as to the tea party.
Party alive and well
The potential power realignment with the tea party was noted in a fundraising letter that Rand Paul sent on behalf of the campaign of fellow conservative Rep. Mark Neumann of Wisconsin. He praised the tea party and used “we” when describing his relationship with the movement.
“We won in Indiana with Richard Mourdock, we’re on the verge of a huge win in Texas with Ted Cruz, we won in Nebraska with Deb Fischer, and we have one other huge fight looming on the horizon: Wisconsin,” Rand Paul wrote, just before Mr. Cruz, a tea party hero, trounced the establishment Senate candidate Tuesday in Texas’ Republican primary.
Rand Paul dubbed Mr. Neumann’s nomination battle with Tommy G. Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and former U.S. health and human services secretary, as the last “tea party vs. establishment” primary on the ticket.
“We’ll either nominate one of these establishment moderates, or we’ll have a taxpayer hero like Mark Neumann as our nominee. I think the choice is pretty clear,” he wrote.
The winner of the Wisconsin Republican primary will face off for the Senate against Rep. Tammy Baldwin for the seat of Sen. Herb Kohl, a four-term Democrat who is retiring.
Russ Walker, vice president of FreedomWorks, which took the lead in organizing the massive Sept. 12, 2010, tea party march on Washington, described Rand Paul’s words as a good sign for conservative voters eager to unseat Mr. Obama.
The tea party movement has been attempting to position itself as a major player in the GOP by winning seats on local and state party central committees and running tea party-backed candidates in GOP primaries. Ron Paul’s libertarian-conservative supporters, who call their collective effort the Liberty Movement, have similar aims.
Hundreds of Ron Paul activists won election as state delegates to Republican National Convention this month by claiming to be committed to Mr. Romney, a violation of party and state rules. Party regulars and many tea partyers say that only later did these supporters reveal that they had always intended to put into nomination the name of Ron Paul and to vote for him at the Tampa, Fla., convention.
Several other tea partyers said they have seen even earlier evidence of the Paul family goal to get a Republican back in the White House.
In Ohio, Tea Party Patriots state coordinator Ralph King said that by not “beating up on Mitt Romney during the nomination battle, Ron Paul showed he respected — I’d say liked — Romney. But if Ron Paul had endorsed him, Ron Paul would have caught hell from lots of his supporters. Rand gives Ron cover to signal he wants his followers to cooperate with the tea party.”
The tea party, with many of its members saying their first priority is to cut the national debt and federal budget deficit, has gotten behind Mr. Romney. They have come to pin their hopes on him as a savvy businessman who is the only practical alternative to a second Obama term and who may keep his promise to bring both frugality and economic-growth incentives to the management to the U.S. economy.
“I believe that a big reason that Republicans lost control of the House and Senate in 2006 was that they did not keep our promise to keep Government small and spending down — and the American people punished us for that,” Rand Paul said in the letter to potential Neumann donors. “We can’t let that happen again.”
The process of lining up behind Mr. Romney has been another — and messy — matter.
At this stage, support for Mr. Romney among the thousands of local tea party groups is real but tepid, conversations with tea partyers across the country suggest.
The tea party and the Paulist liberty movement members, both sides say, have this in common: They are tired of electing lawmakers, governors and presidents who promise fiscal restraint at home and less of a rush to intervention abroad but then do the opposite once in office. But the tea party and the Liberty Movement activists also realize that taking a totally principled stand almost surely will yield little in the way of practical results.
Meanwhile, because Rand Paul offers a home for the Liberty Movement activists who want to see some results on the ground, he could bring as many as half of the Paul troops into coalition with the tea party, forming a battalion in the army of Romney supporters in November.
“The tea party got Rand elected,” tea party activist Jason Hoyt of Florida said. “And now maybe half the liberty movement is saying Rand Paul is the future of the movement because Rand is more realistic, pragmatic and strategic than some of the ‘in your face’ libertarian supporters of Ron Paul.”
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