Mitt Romney ran to the middle in his campaign. He did not run as a conservative. The major news media outlets bought the Democratic line about Romney's conservatism, incredibly ignoring the clamor of the grass-roots base since the Iowa mid-summer 2011 straw poll (if not well before) that Romney was perhaps the least conservative candidate (other than Obama's appointee to the ambassadorship to China, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman) in a then-crowded Republican primary field. Even well into the summer of 2012, grass-roots discontent with Romney was reported widely by the media. His portrayal as a conservative was a Democratic strategy which worked very well, together with the media's incredible complicity. The truth was that Romney ran a race befitting his true nature; Romney is a moderate with few core principles, and campaigned like one. Like most GOP establishment candidates since Reagan, he also was the type of person whose nature did not easily "connect" with "average" Americans. Not surprisingly, he ran into defeat. Establishment Republicans now succeed in spite of their principles and personality, not because of them.
While he was clearly preferable to Obama, let's not forget that Romney was the preferred candidate of virtually no one within the tea party movement at this time last year. One reason: Romney was the architect -- and stubborn defender -- of the Massachusetts health care mandate. Romney was hardly a classic tea party candidate, and his embrace of the movement was clearly one of desperation and necessity. Those true colors shone through, and to the extent tea party support was less than we would have hoped, one could hardly blame the bedrock of our movement for being less than totally enthusiastic about his candidacy.
As for the overall movement, it bears repeating that Romney was hardly an effective or charismatic advocate of tea party principles of fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally limited government and free markets; even on the latter point he was open to charges of being more of a crony capitalist and eager government interventionist on regulatory and overcriminalization issues. If anything, Romney's avoidance of the tea party platform -- and his subsequent defeat, however narrow in the battleground states -- illustrates that the tea party principles remain the only part of the Republican ideological core which has not been sharply rejected in a national election. Obama's victory is far from a defeat for the tea party movement; if anything, his victory "clears the field" of moderate, liberal-lite candidates (aka, RINOs) to allow a true principled leader to emerge.