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The Tea Party “loser” narrative

Via-My Brenner Brief Column

Is the Tea Party helping or hurting the Republican Party in elections?

Photo by Author DC-2010
Photo by Author
Tea Party Rally September 2010
Perhaps of all the false narratives thrown out about the Tea Party and they are legion, the most easily defeated by actual facts is that the Tea Party somehow has caused the GOP not to gain control of the Senate. The first point that must be remembered is that the Republicans held the Senate for over a decade until they lost it in 2008.  In one election cycle the GOP went from a ten seat majority to losing control of the senate and they did this all on their own, without any Tea Party to blame.
It must also be recognized that it is very difficult to combat false assertions that are deemed to be facts.  The false assertion in this case is that but for poor Tea Party candidates the Republicans would have gained control of the Senate. This assertion is based on the unknown, I could just as easily say that if not for poor GOP candidates the Republicans would control the Senate.  After all in the last two election cycles far more GOP candidates have lost senate elections than Tea Party backed candidates, which is a fact  Really the only way that this false narrative can be made to stick is by ignoring one side while focusing on the other which is precisely what the GOP establishment with the gleeful help of the media does constantly.
If you look at how the “civil war” in the Republican Party has played out over the last five years it is basically that when the “entitled” establishment does not get their way, meaning no opposition in primaries, they wine and cry. When they actually lose they often times take their ball and go home or in some cases actively work to destroy the Tea Party backed nominee.  Then with Alinsky like tactics they accuse the Tea Party of seeking to destroy the Republican Party while it is they who are by far most responsible for the divisiveness.
The electoral facts do not live up to the false narrative.  Although the Tea Party has been responsible for some less than stellar candidates, so too has the GOP establishment.  But more important perhaps is how the GOP has mis-characterized the Tea Party’s failures  while ignoring their successes.  So a look back at the record might be a good place to start.
Let’s begin by looking at the 2010 Senate contests.  The first thing that is necessary is to identify who were the Tea Party backed candidates in the general election and who were not. This is more important in 2012 but we shall stick to 2010 for now.  Although some of these names are not recognized as Tea Party Senators today, IE Toomey and Johnson, they clearly identified themselves as being so during the 2010 election cycle.
In 2010 there were 34 Senate contests, of those 25 were being defended by incumbents while 9 were open seats. Here are the Republican candidates who were actively backed by the Tea Party and sought their support, with a star next to those who were facing an incumbent. Those in italics won their election and are now Senators.
  • AK- Joe Miller *
  • CO- Ken Buck
  • DE- Christine O’Donnel
  • FL- Marco Rubio
  • KY- Rand Paul
  • NV- Sharon Angle*
  • PA- Pat Toomey*
  • UT-Mike Lee
  • WI-Ron Johnson *
Of the nine clearly identifiable Tea Party Senate candidates in 2010, five won their elections, two unseating sitting Democratic incumbents.
A couple of other significant notes that need to be made.  Joe Miller lost his election in Alaska to an incumbent Republican, Lisa Murkowski, who in a fit of divisive self-interest ran as a write in Independent.  It is possible, indeed very likely had she not inserted herself in the race after losing in the primary that Joe Miller would have been elected as a Republican Senator from Alaska. It could  also be argued that Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire belongs on this list as well since she was endorsed by Sarah Palin  and had some Tea Party support which the media and the GOP establishment consider the same as a Tea Party endorsement.
So in fact the only Tea Party candidates who lost in 2010 were Buck, O’Donnel and Angle.  Buck lost in a purple state by 1.68%, Angle lost in a purple state to a five term incumbent who just happened to be the sitting Majority Leader in the US Senate. O’Donnel, probably the weakest of the candidates lost in a solid blue state. The important thing to remember though is that all of these candidates that lost and some that won were not enthusiastically supported by the GOP establishment.  In fact in some cases, O’Donnel and Angle in particular they were actually derided in the media by “our side.”  In the case of  Nevada and especially Colorado,  more positive and enthusiastic support from the GOP might have made a difference, instead there was ridicule.
A quick list of other GOP “losers” in the 2010 Senate election cycle.
  • CA-Carly Fiorina *
  • CT- Linda McMahon
  • HI- Cam Cavasso*
  • MD- Eric Wargotz*
  • NY- Jay Townsend*
  • NY- Josef DioGaurdi *
  • OR- Jim Huffman*
  • VT- Len Britton*
  • WA- Dino Rossi *
  • WV- John Reeves Raese
How many Democratic incumbents did the Republicans unseat in the 2010 cycle? Two, Russ Feingold and Arlen Specter both defeated by Tea Party candidates. How many Republican Senators were unseated in 2010? One, Robert Bennet by a Tea Party Candidate Mike Lee who held the seat for the GOP.
Then  there is the story of Marco Rubio and Charlie, which way does the wind blow, Crist whom the GOP actively supported right up until he became an independent. There were two Republican candidates who lost their primaries and instead of backing the GOP winner as good party member are supposed to do, they not only did not support the party’s choice, they turned and ran against them, Charlie Crist of Florida and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both of these candidates were “establishment” backed candidates and both acted in the most divisive way possible. So much for party unity.
Just to wrap up the 2010 Senate election cycle.  There is another Tea Party Senator that was elected in 2010, Tim Scott of South Carolina. Although elected to the House he was appointed to replace Jim DeMint when he left to take over the Heritage Foundation. Scott will be elected in his own right this fall having tremendous approval ratings in the state. The only African-American Republican Senator is virtually ignored by the GOP establishment, simply because to tout him would be to highlight his strong Tea Party roots. So much for reaching out and diversity.
Interesting isn’t it how you hear the drumbeat of  negativity about Angle and O’Donnel coming out of the establishment still while they ignore their own failures IE, Fiorina, McMahon and Rossi.  Were these seats any less winnable than Colorado or Nevada? It is probable that Mike Castle would have won Delaware, but is this loss or even the loss of the others reason enough to attack the most energized and committed portion of a political party’s base.  If the GOP establishment actually believes this, then not only are they out of touch with that base, they are very foolish and incompetent political strategist.
Tomorrow the 2012 debacle.

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