Russ Douthat posits that Iowa will come down to a choice between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and that this is a battle for the soul of the Tea Party. I’ll explain after the quote why I think this misunderstands the Tea Party:
Most important, they represent two very different endpoints for the Tea Party movement. Paul, for all his crankishness, is the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be: Deeply principled, impressively consistent, a foe of big government in nearly all its forms (the Department of Defense very much included), a man of ideas rather than of party.
Gingrich, on the other hand, is the kind of conservative that liberals believe most Tea Partiers to be – not a genuine “don’t tread on me” libertarian, but a partisan Republican whose unstinting support for George W. Bush’s deficit spending morphed into hand-wringing horror of “socialism” once a Democrat captured the Oval Office.
Paul’s rigid consistency can be a vice, and Gingrich’s flexibility a virtue. (Its disastrous ending notwithstanding, his term as speaker included genuine accomplishments that wouldn’t have been possible without a willingness to deal and compromise.) But for a movement that conceives of itself as a rebuke to the grubby compromises of Washington business-as-usual, the Texan congressman should represent a beau ideal, and the former speaker of the house should represent the enemy…
So Iowa Tea Partiers face a choice. If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.” If Paul wins the caucuses, on the other hand, the movement will keep its honor – but also deliver the Republican nomination gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.