Court ruling pumps up tea partiers -- but not their enthusiasm for Romney

Story highlights

  • Tea partiers have long viewed Mitt Romney with skepticism
  • The Massachusetts health care bill he signed while governor is a big frustration for tea partiers.
  • Florida tea party activist: "He's not our candidate. But he's the candidate."
  • Indiana tea partier: "At this point, we'll take him -- we'll hope to mold him into more of our liking."

Before the ink completely dried on the Supreme Court's landmark decision on the nation's health care law, pundits summed up its political impact: It handed President Barack Obama a huge policy win -- but gave Mitt Romney a political battle cry.

Emotions high after Supreme Court upholds health care law

The court's affirming of the Affordable Care Act has angered and pumped up conservatives even more to repeal Obamacare. But are they now at full-throttle enthusiasm for a Romney presidency?

The answer: No.

"I think that people are fired up (after the court ruling)," said Brendan Steinhauser, director of state and federal campaigns for national tea party booster FreedomWorks.

"I think that we understand the importance now of beating Barack Obama. Romney is the candidate. So I think this helps him. But I don't want to mistake that for being a huge groundswell of support for Romney as much as it a huge stand in opposition to Barack Obama."

GOP shakes off shock, seizes on tax message

    Billie Tucker, a well-known figure in Florida's tea party movement, was more blunt.

      Just Watched

      Romney: I'll do what justices didn't

    Romney: I'll do what justices didn't 04:11
    PLAY VIDEO

      Just Watched

      Obama: This is a victory for the people

    Obama: This is a victory for the people 07:13
    PLAY VIDEO

      Just Watched

      Bachmann: Don't implement Obamacare

    Bachmann: Don't implement Obamacare 03:37
    PLAY VIDEO

      Just Watched

      Romney's health care response

    Romney's health care response 02:20
    PLAY VIDEO

    Activists will support the former Massachusetts governor, she said, "not because they love Romney -- because (tea partiers) haven't gotten the love from the Romney people either.

    "But the reality is: he has promised to repeal (the health care law)," Tucker said. "He's not our candidate, but he's the candidate. So we have to help the candidate get elected."

    Tea partiers have long viewed Romney with skepticism. Since its birth in 2009, the movement has advanced staunchly conservative principles and worked to elect like-minded candidates instead of what they deem as "RINOs" (Republicans in Name Only).

    Many of them view Romney as such a political creature -- claiming he repeatedly flip-flopped during his term as governor.

    Romney and his supporters have long denied that assertion.

    Arguably, tea partiers' biggest frustration with Romney is the Massachusetts health care bill he signed into law as governor. Like Obamacare, that signature legislation -- dubbed "Romneycare" by some -- contained an individual mandate compelling citizens to buy health insurance or face a penalty.

    Romney has argued that the Massachusetts health care law was a unique fix for his state -- not one to be duplicated on the national level.

    Ruling cements Obama's political legacy, experts say

    But the similarities between the two plans are a primary reason why tea partiers say they will not be all that enthusiastic about voting for Romney in November.

    Massachusetts health care mandate included tax penalty

    "I think that it's very clear that to get rid of Obamacare, you're going to have to have a different president," said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots -- the nation's largest tea party group.

    When asked if the Patriots' activists will stump hard on Romney's behalf, Martin said, "We're not doing that. The campaign for Romney will do that, I suppose. And the Republican Party will go do that."

    As Martin pointed out, though her group advocates the election of staunch fiscal and constitutional conservatives -- the Patriots don't specifically endorse political candidates.

    "I think most people that I've talked to in Indiana say, 'Yes, we'll definitely vote for Romney,'" said Greg Fettig, co-founder of the Indiana tea party group Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate.

    "We won't like it as well as if it could have been someone else. But, you know, he's infinitely better than Obama."

    Fettig said Indiana tea partiers were "stunned" to learn of the Supreme Court's decision, likening it to "an all-out war." And activists have resolved themselves to "unseat as many Democrats as we can."

    Yet Fettig added: "There are some people disappointed with Romney. But they know, at this point, we'll take him -- we'll hope to mold him into more of our liking. But if not, we'll have to take some incremental steps there and then hope, next time around, we get a more conservative president."

    Fettig said some tea partiers have talked about voting on principle -- potentially writing in other candidate names on the presidential ballot.

    "If you do that, you've given a vote to Barack Obama," Fettig said.

    Christina Kbo, a strategist for the National Tea Party Federation, said, "(The Supreme Court decision) makes November 6 all the more critical," citing increased energy toward conservative get-out-the-vote operations.

    Kbo cited a conference call among many activists on Thursday after the Supreme Court decision. While there was mention of helping Romney, Kbo said: "If you had been on the call, you probably would have been very shocked to hear that Romney's name didn't really come up that much."

    "This is bigger than the presidency ... this is about the future of the country. And we have to focus on sound candidates and support those candidates to office not only at the presidential level but at the Senate, the House, the governors, the state senate, the mayor -- the entire ticket."

    To be sure, Romney does have staunch supporters within the tea party movement. After withdrawing from the GOP presidential race, Michele Bachmann endorsed Romney. On Thursday, the Minnesota congresswoman told Fox News, "This was my signature issue when I ran for president. But I will tell you that Mitt Romney has told me on more than one occasion, looking in my eyes, 'Michelle, I will repeal Obamacare.'"

    Also, how much enthusiasm tea partiers have for Romney may matter little. Because they are galvanized against the president, they could increase conservative turnout at the polls, likely boosting Romney's chances.

    But should Romney win the White House, he will still have to look over his shoulder for wary tea party activists.

    "I think people on our side view Mitt Romney as someone who is a politician who had the ambition to get elected to office as a governor, as a senator and now as the president," Steinhauser said. "And we don't know what's in his heart. We don't know what his ideas really are. He has changed positions a lot. And tea partiers look at the health care mandate in Massachusetts and they didn't like it."

    Given that concern, Steinhauser said tea partiers would "absolutely" hold Romney accountable for overturning Obamacare should he win the White House.

    "The way you do that is by taking over the Senate and making sure that the candidates you elect ... we (also) hold them accountable to their promises."

    Tea party groups target Senate after presidential 'disappointments'

        The Affordable Care Act

      • ac kth health care tax _00002803

        In its ruling last week on the national health care law, the Supreme Court found that penalties the law places on people who don't buy health insurance count as a tax protected by the Constitution.
      • Chief Justice John Roberts

        With his opinion for a narrow majority of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has, for the first time since his confirmation as chief justice in 2005, breached the gap between the conservative and liberal wings of the court on a polarizing political issue.
      • sot Obama healthcare upheld_00003211

        In a landmark ruling that will impact the November election and the lives of every American, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the controversial health care law championed by President Barack Obama.
      • WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: Tea Party activist William Temple, protests in front of he U.S. Supreme Court, on June 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the sweeping health care law championed by President Barack Obama.

        The court's opinion, in preserving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, under Congress' taxing power, still gives a virtually unlimited sway to the power of the federal government, Stephen Presser writes.
      • The AARO has spent about $10.3 million on ads in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

        The Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Thursday. The landmark decision will dictate the way health care is administered to millions of Americans.
      • WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27:  General public with tickets to listen to a hearing on the Obamacare line up for entering the U.S. Supreme Court March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court continues to hear oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

        A look at the four issues the high court tackled separately during oral arguments in late March. Those issues are expected to play key roles in the judges' final decisions.