Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, largely seen as a moderate Republican candidate, has scheduled two major tea party affiliated events over Labor Day weekend: A headlining speaking gig at the Tea Party Express's "Reclaiming America" rally in New Hampshire and a pancake breakfast with conservative darling Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).
Some tea party Republicans, however, do not welcome Romney's arrival.
One tea party group, the Koch-funded FreedomWorks, was previously listed as a co-sponsor for the New Hampshire event, but they're so incensed about the decision to include Romney that they have dropped out of organizing and will now protest on Sunday instead. FreedomWorks also objected to Tea Party Express's inclusion of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in an earlier event.
“Mitt Romney and Orrin Hatch have actively and consistently supported expanding the role of government through government-run health care, Wall Street bailouts and spending hikes. Those positions are unacceptable to the tea party principles of lower taxes, less government and more freedom,” Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, said in a prepared statement. “For these reasons, we have decided to end our participation in the Reclaiming America tour."
FreedomWorks has been outspoken against Romney throughout the early days of his campaign. In June, they called him "inauthentic" and said he would be an "unacceptable" choice as a nominee.
The group's campaign director, Brendan Steinhauser, explained to CNN that FreedomWorks objected to Romney's inclusion at the rally "because it provides cover to him as a tea party candidate, which he's not. Because he's pandering. Because now he's getting challenged from [Minnesota Rep. Michele] Bachmann and [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry and even [Texas Rep.] Ron Paul — all legitimate conservative tea party candidates – and he's trying to protect his right flank."
David Coates, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and author of "Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments", told Raw Story that the sudden tea party appearances crowding Romney's dance card are likely a response to the meteoric rise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry in recent polls. Perry, who has been cozy with the tea party sect, claimed the frontrunner position that Romney previously held. He is favored about 13 points above Romney, according to recent polls.
"Well, Mitt Romney is sinking in the polls, isn't he?" Coates said. "I'm sure he's trying to recalibrate himself again, much more to the right than his record would suggest. The chances of that being persuasive to the tea party is very low though. He is not a tea party Republican."
The dilemma, Coates said, is between the kind of candidate who wins party nominations — candidates who portray themselves as ideologically pure and appeal to the activist base, such as Perry — and the kind of candidate who is competitive in a general election — a moderate, such as Romney.
"I'm not close enough to know what his campaign team are thinking but from a distance this looks like desperation," Coates said. "The Republican Party has a terrific dilemma on its hands. Its ideological base does not share the ideas of mainstream America. The kind of person that [tea partiers] want to see, I'm sure the Democrats want them to put up as well, because it gives the Democrats a better chance to keep the White House. Mitt Romney looks like a serious candidate to run against Barack Obama, but his chances of getting that job are slipping away."
The Tea Party Express, however, insisted in a statement that the rally was open to all, not only tea party candidates. The group will stay neutral until after the Sept. 12 Republican debate.
"We’ve been very clear that this presidential tour is open to presidential candidates who want to speak to the tea party, and many candidates have confirmed they will attend," the group's statement read. "This is their chance to make their case to the tea party audience about why they deserve support from the tea party movement."
They called it "silly" to protest the rally and "just as ridiculous" to protest Romney's Monday appearance in South Carolina.
"We view this move by FreedomWorks at best as a misguided press stunt, and are disappointed at the disingenuous approach taken after we have made every effort to be inclusive and accommodating on our national bus tour," the Tea Party Express concluded.
In the early primary state of South Carolina, Perry maintained a 20-point lead over Romney in a recent poll. Romney's camp cited scheduling difficulties previously, when they turned down the first invitation. Now, however, Romney is slated to attend. DeMint endorsed Romney in 2008 and though he has expressed reservations recently about the former governor's record, he is rumored to be open to considering a second endorsement.
"[DeMint is] a good friend and we wanted to do what we could to make it work,” senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told Politico of the campaign's change of heart and scheduling.