GOP headed for center

The more things change, the more they stay the same — much to the consternation of partisans. Given ample time, the political pendulum swings back to the center. One year out from the next election, it is moving there once again. 

In 2009 and 2010 the country rejected government takeovers of large sectors of the economy financed by deficit spending. Yet in 2011 the Republican Party has made it clear it is definitely not a Tea Party. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who provided Mitt Romney with a powerful and early endorsement Tuesday, won’t be the last. In the weeks to come, more conservatives will continue to come out in support of the former Massachusetts governor in his quest for the presidency, shocking other Republicans as well as themselves. The candidate roundly criticized for inspiring the dreaded ObamaCare healthcare law and flip-flopping all over the place on other conservative bedrocks is now firmly positioned as the front-runner in the presidential race, and likely the next leader of the GOP, with a great shot at becoming the 45th president of the United States.

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Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), whose election to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat was the quintessential Tea Party victory, might not get reelected next year after all. On the other hand, despite the Tea Party’s fierce and numerous threats, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) might ultimately hold on.

As the country moves away from the Obama agenda of a larger, more far-reaching government, it has also failed to embrace radical cuts in spending, or serious entitlement reform. Polling consistently shows a majority supports: taxing the wealthy more, a balanced approach of taxation and spending cuts to reduce the deficit and policymakers focusing on job creation before deficit reduction. More and more Republicans are coming to terms with the need to nominate a candidate who can win over that electorate. 

A consolidation required to nominate Romney has already occurred at the congressional level. In the House of Representatives, a good number of Tea Party-backed lawmakers continue to support House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with their votes, as they did on the debt-ceiling deal, no matter how loudly they squawked. 

An embrace of Romney, with his questionable conservative credentials, would end the Tea Party as an independent movement seeking to cleanse the GOP. Changing its goal, from purity to victory, means integration into the establishment of the GOP, the very capitulation the movement was founded to end.

Just what will Tea Party poster boy Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) say when he endorses Romney? Nothing, because he won’t. But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) just might. DeMint, of course, supported Romney in 2008, but said this year he might not be able to because of RomneyCare, which conveniently didn’t bother him in 2008. Will the DeMint of 2008 reappear? Or is the DeMint of 2010, who spent $250,000 on ads for Christine O’Donnell’s unsuccessful Senate campaign, here to stay? Those who refuse to rally behind Romney are likely to be outnumbered by a surprising number of conservatives who will relent, many of whom have openly criticized Romney in the past. The Big Tent reunion will be quite a bash indeed. 

There is still time for the GOP to reject Romney, but in pursuit of defeating President Obama, the odds are that it won’t. Republicans know Romney isn’t likely to campaign on the budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would turn Medicare into a voucher system, the Arizona immigration law or the idea that the debt ceiling doesn’t really need to be raised. And that if Romney wins, the Tea Party loses.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.