The vocal leader of the Tea Party Nation, a leading branch of the grassroots conservative movement, passed over some of the movement’s biggest rock stars to endorse the presidential candidacy of one of Washington’s most well-established figures: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Writing on the group’s website, Judson Phillips argues that Mr. Gingrich the most electable and the best debater the crowded GOP field. He called him “the big idea man, much as Ronald Reagan was,” and said he would provide a stark contrast in a general election match-up with President Obama.
“Gingrich can rightfully claim credit for everything from welfare reform to balancing the budget,” he said. “Obama can offer nothing against him.”
In offering his support, Mr. Phillips also critiqued the weaknesses of the rest of the GOP pack, including of the current nominal leaders, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
He said that Mr. Perry’s biggest problem is immigration, after he refused to back off his support of in-state tuition for some children of illegal immigration or endorse a border fence.
Mr. Romney, he said, “wins the panderer in chief award.”
“He is more of a flip-flop than John Kerry was,” he said, alluding to the Massachusetts Senator’s waffling in his 2004 presidential bid. “He is a politician without conviction. He believes in big government as long as the Republican establishment is in charge of it.”
Though Mr. Phillips, nor anyone else for that matter, speaks for the entire Tea Party movement, the critiques provide some insight into where some in the grassroots movement stand, less than a year after it helped propel Republicans into control of the House and pick up seats in the Senate.
The endorsement follows the recent three-day GOP excursion in Orlando, which included a debate where Mr. Gingrich, who served 20 years in Congress, once again was quick on his feet and generally thought to have turned in one of his strongest performances yet.
The Georgia Republican, though, is struggling to gain traction in national polls, where he is currently running sixth. He’s also far behind the leaders in Iowa, which hosts the caucuses that kick of the nomination process next year, and New Hampshire, home to the first in the nation primary.
He also carries some baggage with social conservatives after having been married three times and admitted to have an extra-marital personal affair in the 1990s as he led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Mr. Phillips briefly touches on this, saying that “Gingrich does have some personal issues in his past but those are ancient history.”
As for the rest of the pack, Mr. Phillips said that Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson were “unelectable.” He described former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as “an Obama fan boy who loves liberal policies.”
He warned that former pizza magnate Herman Cain’s plan to scrap the tax code with a 9 percent tax on business, income and sales would open the door for Democrats to impose a national sales tax without repealing the income tax.
And he said it would be hard for Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann to make the jump from the House to the presidency, something that has not been done since James Garfield in 1880.
To which he added, “she is not the visionary needed to really dismantle large sections of the Federal Government.”