Writing in the NY Times, Ross Douthat lays out the stakes for the Iowa Tea Party during caucus time:
[Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)] represent two very different endpoints for the Tea Party movement. Paul, for all his crankishness, is the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be: Deeply principled, impressively consistent, a foe of big government in nearly all its forms (the Department of Defense very much included), a man of ideas rather than of party.
Gingrich, on the other hand, is the kind of conservative that liberals believe most Tea Partiers to be – not a genuine “don’t tread on me” libertarian, but a partisan Republican whose unstinting support for George W. Bush’s deficit spending morphed into hand-wringing horror of “socialism” once a Democrat captured the Oval Office.
Iowa Tea Partiers face a choice. If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.” If Paul wins the caucuses, on the other hand, the movement will keep its honor – but also deliver the Republican nomination gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.