One more point in response to Ross Douthat: all of the reasons he gives for populist conservatives being partly to blame for an eventual Romney nomination were true before there was a Tea Party. Candidates fitting Romney’s profile have been winning the Republican nomination since Tom Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower beat Robert Taft. Only two candidates preferred by movement conservatives, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, have beaten establishment Republicans for the nomination, and only Goldwater won as an insurgent.
Since then, the strongest conservative challengers to the Republican frontrunner have included a religious broadcaster (Pat Robertson in 1988), a political commentator (Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996), and a magazine publisher (Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000). The man with arguably the strongest political resume in the bunch actually did become a future television personality (Mike Huckabee in 2008), like Alan Keyes before him and Sarah Palin after.
For the past 24 years, conservatives have failed to unite behind a single candidate, splitting their votes between the frontrunner and various right-wing alternatives who appealed to particular subsets of the conservative movement. Candidates beloved by the movement have failed to catch on with rank-and-file conservative voters (Jack Kemp in 1988, Phil Gramm in 1996, Fred Thompson, and, yes, Mitt Romney in 2008). Candidates hated by movement organs have actually done a bit better with the conservative grassroots (Robertson, Buchanan, Huckabee, and perhaps a good bit of the 2012 GOP field).
If these are conservative failures, they far predate the Tea Party. The movement has been more successful at pushing the party establishment to the right than in running the party itself.
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