Lesson to Future Republican Hopefuls: Ignore the Tea Party at Your Peril

In late 2011, long before the first caucuses and primaries of the 2012 election, I had the opportunity to speak with someone high up in Mitt Romney’s finance world, and warned him that the conservative base wasn’t warming to the party’s presumptive nominee. The longer Romney keeps the Tea Party at arm’s length, I said, the tougher his chances at winning the general election, presuming he can win the Republican nomination first.

Nonsense, I was told. Those people will all come around in the general election. They will vote for Romney to get rid of Obama.

Perhaps, I answered. But don’t be so sure–right now there are some who would rather sit through another four years of Obama than endure a Republican who they imagine will sell them out at the first opportunity. The time for Romney reach out to the conservative base is now, before it is too late.

In the end, Romney did not reach out. Many in the Tea Party grass roots did, eventually, back the Republican nominee. Many came to like and admire Romney, especially after his strong performance in the debates. The renewed enthusiasm of conservatives for the political fight encouraged many–myself included–to believe Republicans would see strong turnout at the polls. But there were millions who had checked out already.



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