Imagine if you will, the ideal Tea Party presidential candidate. This is a movement dedicated to small government, limited constitutionalism, free enterprise and combating crony capitalism. Not a career politician like Rick Perry. Not a desperate panderer like Mitt Romney. And no, not an ideologically unpredictable disgraced former House Speaker who took money from healthcare companies and government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to promote their interests. (That’s Newt Gingrich, in case you couldn’t tell.)
Instead, picture a man who perfectly embodies the Tea Party’s identity and values. A cranky old white man, he can, unlike his opponents, boast of having both served in the military and worked in the private sector. He is a relentlessly pure ideologue: he would rather let the global economy collapse than lend money to banks at a profit. He is utterly impractical. He would rather be right than win. He has dedicated his career to staunchly supporting states’ rights and opposing wasteful spending at home and abroad.
He’s not a true libertarian: he takes socially conservative stances like opposing immigration and reproductive freedom. But the Tea Party is composed of social conservatives. Political scientists David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam found, “Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”
There is, of course, the matter of his past racism. And that raises the possibility that his opposition to social spending is motivated by racial resentment. But there’s survey data to suggest he’s hardly alone among Tea Partiers in that regard.
The man is Ron Paul. And yes, he is surging in Iowa. But no, he won’t be the Republican nominee for president, and he isn’t the Tea Party candidate either. Why is that? His foreign policy views are simply at odds with a majority of Tea Party voters. And because Tea Party leaders want to win, even if they are more sympathetic to Paul, they won’t try to force Paul onto the movement.
You must distinguish between the different Tea Parties. There’s the Tea Party of professional political activists at organizations like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. These activists are informed and intensely conservative on fiscal issues. They generally say that Paul is indeed their favorite candidate on pure principle. But these are political operators: they want to win, and they don’t back sure losers.