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The 'tea party' gears up for 2012

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.

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By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; 2:23 AM

The playbook for winning the Republican presidential nomination begins with a set of inviolable rules: Start early, raise millions, build an organization, and trudge across the country seeking the blessing of mayors and money men.

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But in a world where the most careful plans can be rendered obsolete by a Sarah Palin tweet (see: Primary, Delaware), many in the party have begun to question whether those old, pre-"tea party" rules still apply.

So as the would-be 2012 GOP presidential candidates are salivating at what they see as President Obama's growing vulnerabilities, they are also reassessing their assumptions about what it will take to win.

"The only two things more reactive than politicians running for president are rabbits and quail," said strategist John Weaver, who helped reengineer Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from insurgent in 2000 to establishment pick in 2008.

Weaver warned, however, that "many of the people looking to run for president will take a crash course in tea party marketing 101 and will ultimately hurt themselves."

One example of this, he said, was former House speaker Newt Gingrich's declaration that Obama is exhibiting "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior."

Gingrich was describing an essay he had read in Forbes magazine, suggesting that Obama's African father - although he was absent through the future president's childhood - might have influenced his worldview.

But his comments also seemed to indulge the right-wing myths about Obama's citizenship and conspiracy theories questioning his loyalties.

The new force within the Republican Party is contemptuous of safe, pragmatic calculations for winning swing voters and offers no forgiveness for political compromises and ideological inconsistencies. Saying you're for smaller government, for instance, and then backing the bailout of Wall Street banks.

"There's going to be an absolute stress on 'I.P.' - ideological purity," predicted Ken Duberstein, a Reagan White House chief of staff who is a lobbyist.

But that, he and other Republican strategists have said, could leave the center wide open - creating an opportunity for Obama and the Democrats. Or, for a moderate Republican, if the fractious tea party turns out to be a political moment instead of a movement and loses its sway over the party.

If the old moves have limited usefulness in this new environment, potential candidates for president are testing new ones.


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