A funny thing happened on the campaign trail: Ron Paul, the ‘father of the tea party movement, lost the tea party vote.
What’s even more surprising is that Paul actually fares better among those who aren’t tea party supporters. In Arizona, where he took 8 percent of the vote overall, he won 8 percent among those who are neutral about the tea party and 21 percent among those who oppose the movement.
A look at Ohio polling reveals a similar trend in the Buckeye State, which holds its primary five days from today on Super Tuesday.
A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed that only 30 percent of tea party supporters likely to vote in the GOP primary have a favorable opinion of Paul. That’s compared with 79 percent who view former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) favorably, 64 percent who look favorably at former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and 49 percent who say the same of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R).
Some tea party supporters we’ve talked to on the trail over the past month also have had lukewarm feelings about Paul.
Kay Clymer, a 57-year-old retired teacher and the organizer of the 300-member Zanesville Tea Party Patriots, was among the several hundred tea party supporters who attended an early-morning Santorum event in Columbus, Ohio, two weeks ago (the same event where Santorum won loud applause from the crowd when he took aim at President Obama’s “phony theology”).
Clymer said in an interview that she is behind Santorum in the GOP race — as are the majority of Zanesville Tea Party Patriots — although a handful of members support Paul or Romney.
“Was he?” Clymer said when asked whether Paul was considered the founder of the tea-party movement. “We like some things he says about the Fed, and that kind of thing. I’m sure there’s one or two in my group — I have 300 — that like Ron Paul. But no, we’re much more conservative. We’re much more wanting somebody who’s really going to make a turnaround.”
Some polls have suggested that the tea party movement may be fueled as much by views on religion and illegal immigration as by a push for lower spending and taxes. That was a point that Clymer touched on, noting that the tea party-backed idea of fiscal responsibility “all comes back to our Biblical roots.”
“Well, we are for limited government, fiscally responsible government and marketplaces,” Clymer said. “But when you go into that, all of it means life. I think it’s about values. Core values. You can’t be fiscally responsible if you don’t have the core belief that the borrower is a slave to the lender.”
That could be one reason why Santorum, a vocal social conservative, is picking up support among tea party supporters and why Paul, a libertarian, may be having trouble gaining traction. Another reason could be that tea party supporters, like many GOP voters more broadly, don’t view Paul as viable in a general election contest against Obama.
In a statement, Jesse Benton, Paul’s national campaign chairman, heralded the growth of the tea party and suggested that some of Paul’s rivals in the GOP race are “phonies” that have been bending over backward in an effort to pick up support from members of the movement.
“It is wonderful that so many Republican voters are identifying with the limited government principles of the tea party, which Dr. Paul was instrumental in launching,” Benton said. “These good people are being sold a bill of good[s] that a big-government phony like Rick Santorum represents their values, or that they have to pick a moderate like Mitt Romney in order to beat President Obama.”
He added that Paul’s campaign has “the support of the activists who are more deeply tuned in than the average voter and understand that Dr. Paul is the only candidate who stands for real change and can win in November.”
“Dr. Paul has the organization, resources and the staying power to take this campaign to the finish liner and capture the hearts of all tea party supporters,” Benton said.
What’s your take? Has the tea party changed, or was it about more than just fiscal conservatism from the start? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below, or tweet them to us at #wptrailmix.