By MARC McDONALD
Shell-shocked Republicans are continuing to do a post-mortem on why Mitt Romney's bid for the White House was a flop. But in trying to understand their defeat, they really need to point the finger of blame at a section of the GOP itself: the Tea Party.
Since it sprang into action a few years ago, the Tea Party has prided itself on "re-energizing" the GOP base and returning the party to its core principles. And indeed, the Tea Party did inspire a lot of Conservatives who had been dismayed by the likes of big-spending George W. Bush (even though the Tea Party only started making a big fuss when President Obama entered the White House).
The Tea Party made itself into a force to be reckoned within the GOP. It was a force that could no longer be ignored by party leaders. Which meant that the "moderate" Romney was obligated to pick a Tea Party favorite as his VP selection.
Paul Ryan may have delighted the Tea Partiers. But his hard-line extremism scared the hell out of the rest of us. Far from enhancing the Romney ticket, it's clear that Ryan was a liability from Day One.
Ryan's presence on the ticket demonstrates that the GOP still hasn't grasped one of the cardinal rules of U.S. politics. That is: you don't screw with Medicare. No matter how much lipstick the GOP tried to put on Ryan's "voucher" pig, most non-Fox News-watching voters saw it for what it was: the first step toward ending Medicare entirely.
Frankly, the Tea Party should take much of the blame for Romney's failed White House bid. Yes, the movement did inspire a segment of the GOP. But in doing so, it poisoned the overall GOP brand.
In keeping Tea Party figures like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann out of the spotlight during the GOP convention, the GOP tried to downplay the extremist crazies in the party that scared middle-of-the-road voters. Oddly, though, the GOP didn't grasp that it'd be a problem if a Tea Party extremist was given the VP nod.
Tea Partiers have long claimed that they're working to "save" America and return the GOP to its roots. But really, all the movement has accomplished is to damage the Republican brand and to make average voters wary of an increasingly extreme GOP.