Romney has a Tea Party problem

Conn Carroll:

Both on the ground and in the polls, it is rapidly becoming apparent that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a huge credibility problem with the Tea Party that he must solve if he is going to have a chance against Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

FreedomWorks announced yesterday that they will protest Romney’s appearance at a rally this Sunday in Concord, N.H. The rally is part of the Tea Party Express’ cross country bus tour that is set to culminate in Tampa, Fla., before the Sept. 12 CNN presidential debate. “We have to defend our brand against poseurs,” FreedomWorks organizer Brendan Steinhauser told Politico. “If we can’t make any distinction between any of the candidates, if we’re just going to provide cover for the establishment candidates, then what is the point of having the tea party?”

Other self-identified Tea Party groups echo FreedomWorks concerns. Andrew Hemingway of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire predicted at least five other Tea Party affiliated groups would join the protest. ““The tea party stands for a few pretty core principles – limited government, individual responsibility – and Mitt Romney does not represent those.”

The anti-Romney sentiment expressed by Hemingway and Steinhauser is also evident in early polling of the GOP field. According to CNN’s latest poll, “Tea Party Supporters” prefer Perry over Romney by a 30-point margin (41 to 11). Republicans who describe themselves as “Tea Party Neutral” only prefer Perry by 3%.

Romney better choose how to close this gap wisely. If he decides to attack Perry from the left on entitlements, like Marc Thiessen reported he might, he could quickly become the next Newt Gingrich.

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The race is quickly getting away from Romney and attack Perry is not going to save him. He has to address the issues that have made him so toxic to many within the Tea Party. Playing to the middle is not going to please this group.

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