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What's for the tea party not to like in Romney?

| Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012

For the last few months, the world has been fascinated by the tea party's frenzied search for a presidential candidate who is not Mitt Romney. Because it found the man inauthentic, it buoyed up a string of anti-Mitts -- Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich.

But they were buffoons all, preposterous figures whom tea partyers rightfully changed their minds about as soon as they got to know them.

It was quite a spectacle, this quest for the non-Romney, and we all know why they undertook it. In ways that matter, Romney is clearly a problem. His views on abortion, for example, change with the winds. Ditto, gay rights. He designed the Massachusetts health insurance system that was the model for ObamaCare.

And he's even said that he approved of the TARP bank bailout, the abomination that helped ignite the tea party uprising in the first place.

Still, my advice to the idealists of the right is this: Get over it. Not for sellout reasons, like Romney has the best chance of beating President Obama. No. Tea partyers should get behind Romney because, in a certain paradoxical way, he might turn out to be the truest to the spirit of the tea party movement of all the candidates.

If nothing else, the tea partyers have spent the last three years teaching Americans that we are in a battle for the very soul of capitalism. And here comes Romney, the soul of American capitalism in the flesh. Look back over his career as a predator drone at Bain Capital: Isn't it the exact sort of background the movement always insists politicians ought to have as its members wave their copy of "Atlas Shrugged" in the air?

It's true that Romney said that the bank bailouts of 2008-09 were necessary. But any study of bank history reveals that free-marketeers have no problem doling out, or grabbing for, government money when the chips are down.

Romney, who is loud and proud when it comes to the need for further deregulation, has actually been more consistent than the tea party. He's the gimme candidate of 2012.

Tea partyers say Romney is an unprincipled faker. Fair enough -- he is. He's so plastic he's almost animatronic. But aren't tea partyers the ones who fall for it every time Fox News wheels out some Washington hack to confuse this or that corporate issue with the sacred cause of freedom• Aren't they the ones who thought that Glenn Beck's tears were markers of emotional sincerity?

With Romney, a centimillionaire venture capitalist, carrying the tea party banner in 2012, it will finally get to submit its capsized vision of social class to the verdict of the people -- the actual flesh-and-blood people, that is, not the corporate "people" who make up the S&P 500.

Indeed, the tea party's leadership cadre already has come to terms with Romney's Bain years. When Gingrich criticized Romney for his career as a venture capitalist, tea party media heroes exploded with outrage.

"This is the kind of risk-taking, free-market capitalism that most people who call themselves conservatives applaud," intoned Brit Hume on Fox News.

Columnist George Will declared that what Romney did in his venture-capitalist days was an "essential social function" and that his company was "indispensable for wealth creation."

Social issues be damned! Romney will ensure that we get the one thing that this country can't do without on its path to hell -- further deregulation of Wall Street.

The nation's all-powerful elitist socialists will, of course, disagree, and tea partyers will have a field day -- raging and weeping at the way they are going to set out to persecute this noble, wealth-creating soul.

"Pity the billionaire!" will be a powerful rallying cry for 2012.

Thomas Frank is a columnist for Harpers magazine.

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