USA Today asks if the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which helped give rise to the Tea Party, has receded as a political issue this year. The primary bit of evidence is that Mitt Romney has emerged from his support for the $700 Wall Street bailout.
I leave it to readers to decide whether a candidate who has struggled to win the Republican nomination despite massive organizational and financial advantages over disorganized and underfunded opponents who in most cycles would have dropped out by now, after several months of trailing a revolving door of political nobodies in the national polls, is truly “unscathed.” TARP trails only Romneycare and the former Massachusetts governor’s abortion flip-flops in most conservative criticisms of the Republican frontrunner.
But TARP has obviously taken a backseat to health care reform and Tea Party conservatives have been more forgiving of TARP support than they were in 2010. Herman Cain, who was briefly a conservative favorite, supported the bank bailout. So did many respected conservatives in Congress. Romney has tried to maintain the absurd distinction between good Henry Paulson TARP and bad Timothy Geithner TARP.
Nevertheless, TARP is a huge issue in Richard Mourdock’s Republican primary challenge to Richard Lugar in Indiana. The Republican candidates all claim to oppose bailouts now. Romney didn’t win Mike Lee’s endorsement until after he became the heavy favorite to win the nomination and Jim DeMint signaled it was time for other options to “reassess.” We’ll see how committed conservatives remain to their opposition to bailouts — especially those used as political slush funds rather than for their ostensible purpose of buying “toxic” assetts — going forward.